Monday, September 12, 2016

Guestopia - Ampersand Prize winner, Cally Black

Today, we've switched things up! Instead of our Guestopia Interview going live on the 26th, we've brought it forward - and for good reason!

First, let's meet today's very special guest... Australian author, CALLY BLACK!

Cally is a winner of Hardie Grant Egmont's Ampersand Prize, and her debut novel In the Dark Spaces will be published in 2017.

She has travelled throughout Asia, Europe and Africa and now lives in Melbourne with her family. When she's not writing YA sci-fi, she teaches TAFE, writes for the educational market, and works with gifted children.

Awesome! Now click here for a little info about the Hardie Grant Ampersand Prize, which closes this year on Friday, September 16th, to find out what a massive writing prize this is!

So, let's gooooooo!

Is this your first published book?

Yes, this is my very first trade novel. It's very exciting.

I've had short stories published for children in Educational Publishing and in SF magazines before but have been focussing on YA novels for the last couple of years.

What’s it called?

In the Dark Spaces, which has a double meaning, and, I feel, invokes a mood similar to one of my favourite stanzas from a Robert Frost poem, “Desert Places.”

Which genre?

Science Fiction Thriller

Which age group?

Young Adult

Is it a series or standalone?

This is standing alone, and if it does really well... who knows?

Are you an agented author?

No. Unagented.

Which publisher snapped up your book?

Hardie Grant Egmont selected it as their Ampersand Prize novel for 2016 from their annual competition. Very exciting for a first novel to hit the ground with an award behind it!

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

I'm very hands-on. Marisa at HGE has a lot of advice and ideas for tweaks and I see it as my job to realise that potential, so it's a lot of hard and rewarding work. I don't think anyone else could do it for me. There's an unusual voice and it's set in an unusual world. I wouldn't want anyone else to do it for me!

Do you have another job?

I have two other jobs. I work for a private educational company that works with children during the day and I teach at TAFE at night. Fortunately, I get school holidays off both of those.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

Only about a gazillion! Actually the last couple of years I'd stopped sending work out (this stops rejections!) and turned inwards to focus on my writing to try to understand why it got attention but never an offer, and to try to improve. It was a process that involved reading a lot of essays and articles by writers and reading their novels and picking apart how they did the things I loved. I'm still in that process. I may always be in that process. There's so much to learn!

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

 I'd read Hunger Games and then I read 5th Wave and I thought you know what? These authors are having fun and letting go and not censoring themselves. Gloves off! I'm going to go into a novel swinging and punching. What's the worst that can happen? I told myself I didn't have to show it to anyone. It was just for me. And there were a few new techniques that I wanted to try so it was all useful.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

I don't plot. I write to tell myself a story, to entertain myself. If I plotted, I will have told myself the story and the process of writing it would change. What I do is I write scene by scene, and when I get to the end of the story. I put it aside and write it again in a more orderly fashion from scratch, and try to fully realise the motivations and quirks of each character. So I write and then I plot, and then I write again. This second time, I guess is with a writer hat on, whereas the first time, I suppose I'm inhabiting the viewpoint character. This is a very slow way to do things, even if you can type 40wpm, but I think, if the writer is enjoying themselves and connected with their character, you can feel that in the words.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

I started it. It went in a weird direction after 20,000 words. I turned the page and started it again, and I've been wrestling it ever since!

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

 Well, you understand this was a novel just for me. I made about half a dozen passes over it. Put it aside, came back to it, and I still liked it far too much for the strange thing it was, the experimental thing I was never going to show anyone. So I showed the opening to an online writing group in the US, and they were really accepting of it. They didn't bag anything I thought they would. So then I showed the opening to Dee White who is a great friend and great writer and she liked it. So then the thing I didn't have to show anyone, became something I could actually show people.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

Only the opening with Dee before querying. The Ampersand was a bit of a spur of the moment thing. Normally I would run the whole thing via friends, do a novel swap. I'm pretty good at editing, so it's the story that I need examined. Dee has read the whole novel since to help me with the HGE edits.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

Probably around eight. I'm obsessive about getting things right. Not good at keeping track of numbers.

How many drafts until it was published?

Another four implementing big and minor changes with Marisa.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

The core main character has remained the same and the core story, but another character was added, and a lot of work expanding characters and their motivation has improved it significantly. It basically grew a heart.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

Yes! Always! Marisa's just pried it from my hands! I'd keep working on it forever. If only there was more time, if only I could have another 10,000 words!

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

I find being the character and writing the openings the easiest. I love writing dialogue. Finding a voice. I love setting the character free to tell her story.

What part do you find hardest?

Endings are hard. Being bound by word counts and pacing is also hard. Not letting the dark parts of the stories overwhelm the light... as might be judged by a YA reader is difficult, because clearly I'm a dark person! My darkometer is a bit stuffed.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

I'm diseased with writing. Did you see above where I said even though no one wanted to publish me, I wrote just for me for two years? I write to entertain myself. I write to learn more about writing. I write because it's a habit I just can't kick, but at least it won't damage my liver.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

Erm... three lately but usually two.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

100% learned. I'm not “writer material” whatever that is. I wasn't read to or raised among bookshelves, we didn't own many books. School libraries were my only source of books. I was good at English but it wasn't my favourite subject. But I am from a family of storytellers. The things we did, became stories told at late night fires after hard day's work. The things we survived, were relegated to stories, told over and over to friends. My history is a collection of stories that have been garnished for entertainment value. There is the truth softened and made entertaining by the story. I am a collection of stories. Maybe we all are.

Early on in my daydream of learning to write, I read Dare to Be a Great Writer by Leonard Bishop. Bishop told me it didn't matter where your starting point was, as he was once a hobo who won a typewriter in a dice game, your voice can be as relevant as any other, more so, if it's honest and raw. It's taken me a long time to trust my voice.

How many future novels do you have planned?

 100s but how many get published is up to the readers, and whether they like this novel.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I don't have time to blog. Lately nothing on the short story front. But perhaps some more in the future.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

The first meeting with Hardie Grant Egmont when a young woman from marketing came to meet me with Marisa and I asked what her role in the meeting was (feeling nervous I was being assessed for marketability) and she said, she adored the book so much she had to meet the person who wrote it! My first fan!

Give us one writing tip that works for you.

'Don't stage direct the senses.' Your main character is usually too busy seeing something to think about the fact that her eyes are doing the seeing or pointing in a particular direction. Just plunge on in with what's happening.

And one that doesn't.

'Start with action.' Don't start with action, start with some movement, but something that allows your reader an insight into your character. Don't expect a reader to care that an unknown character is under threat of death in the opening paragraph. This is my Ampersand Prize entry tip too.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

Erm... I haven't got that far along yet. If readers want a sequel, they'll have to let me know next year after they read In the Dark Spaces, but at the moment, I'm writing another YA set closer to home, in small town Victoria, which involves a lot of missing people and a bit of an invasion.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

You realise I can say almost anything because as a new author, I've not been interviewed!

But maybe I can share what I was like when I was the age of my protagonist, with the question, “What were you like as a young adult?”

And the answer is: angry, stupid, a lanky goofy thing with no identity or sense of value with a deathwish ambition to be burnt out before 20 (told you I was stupid). And I'm so glad that was one of the many things I failed at.

And that's a wrap! Fantastic. I for one cannot wait to read In the Dark Spaces, it sounds awesome. Thank you so much for joining YAtopia today, Cally!

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