On Collaboration: Thoughts on Writing and The Publishing Industry

Writing is often seen as a solitary effort, but when you look at it more closely, there are fewer occupations that have more collaboration than the publishing industry.

Sure, the physical process of getting pen to paper may be one that only you can accomplish, but even then there are exceptions, particularly with the advent of writers groups, online forums and brainstorming sessions designed to knock down the barrier that keeps one’s ideas from formulation.

Think about it. While most ideas for a story come from one solitary writer, the development of said story is collaborative from the very start. Before a writer can even think about getting their story on paper, there’s nearly always some form of research involved, and where, more than anywhere else these days does one turn than the most collaborative project of the modern era: the internet. From there, you may find that you need to interview someone in order to get to the heart of the story, before finally getting to the actual writing of it.

And collaboration doesn’t stop there. If writing for publications other than a blog, more often than not, you will find yourself having to work with a proof reader to ensure your story is 100 percent quality before it goes to print [see more about why you would hire a freelancer here]. Once submitted to your editor, they in turn may have to liaise extensively with graphic designers, art directors and even advertisers to ensure your content will truly shine. They may even need to liaise with other writers, or photographers and videographers to ensure they have the visual media to accompany your writing.

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Collaboration really comes into its own when your piece is eventually published, as your work will (hopefully) encourage others to share their own thoughts on the subject you are covering, most likely in a public space of their own, and so the chain continues.

This is what I love most about the writing and publishing process – the ability to create something that will spark creativity and opinions in others in a way that you never dreamed was possible when sitting at home mulling over an idea you thought would never see the light of day.

That’s why, in today’s day and age, expression through writing, and the publishing of said writing is so important. It allows us to have a global conversation and talk about things that are important in ways that were once impossible. In this way, it’s the ultimate form of collaboration, giving a voice to the meek and shining a light on topics that were once deemed irrelevant.

[Editor/Author Note: This article is inspired by The Daily Post: Collaboration]

Roslyn Petelin – How Writing Works (Literature Review)

Despite recent cutbacks in the arts and entertainment field, Australia has a plethora of aspiring writers hoping to one day make their mark on the industry – either through a novel of their own, journalism, literary criticism or some other way. But the professional development workshops that can teach you how to break in can sometimes come at a heavy cost.

The only solution, therefore, is the self-help section of one’s local bookstore or library. But have you seen the sheer volume of “how-to” guides on the creative industries lately? Sure, there’s the ones everyone talks about, like Lynne Truss’s highly regarded Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, The Penguin Guide to Plain English by Harry Blamires or even How Not To Write a Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark, but there’s also hundreds of others dedicated to specific styles of writing, such as script writing, copywriting and writing for children. Where’s a fledgling writer, professional or otherwise, to start?

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Buy your copy of “How Writing Works” by clicking here.

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Glenda Millard – The Stars at Oktober Bend (Literature Review)

Glenda Millard’s latest novel, The Stars at Oktober Bend is a unique and heartbreaking coming-of-age story that shines a light on the human psyche.

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Click here to get your copy of this book via Allen & Unwin.

In recent times, young adult fiction has received something of a bad rap for its cookie-cutter plots generally featuring a hot guy who, when he finally pays attention to the girl next door with whom he was friends as a child, instantly falls in love with her despite her gangly awkwardness. Add in a broody vampire taking a liking to the new girl in town and you’ve got the next paranormal cross-over.

That said, there are exceptions to this well-worn rule, which form a category all of their own, such as John Green’s much-loved The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and even Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. In their own right, each take on the ‘coming of age’ theme in their own special way, and that is what makes them so popular.

To look at, Australian author Glenda Millard’s YA novel, The Stars at Oktober Bend definitely falls in the latter category. But as you delve into the pages of this unique and memorable story, you will find something altogether different, a coming-of-age tale that stands on its own in terms of comparability – at least in my opinion.

“They sewed me up when I was twelve. Mended my broken head with fishbone stitches. Tucked my frayed edges in. Tucked everything in. Things meant to be and things not. Do it quick. Stop the flow. Stop life leaking out of Alice.” This is how The Stars at Oktober Bend begins and it is with those few words, said so plainly and yet so powerfully that this book hooked me and found a place in my heart for many years to come.

Alice Nightingale is twelve when she receives an acquired brain injury doctors believe to be so severe that her mental capacity will not be beyond the age she is at the time of the attack. The repercussions upon her family – her brother Joey and her grandmother, not to mention her often referred to yet barely present grandfather Charlie – are great and it is through Alice and because of Alice that they are outcasts in their small town of Oktober Bend.

Now fifteen years old and unable to attend school because of her ‘limitations’, Alice struggles in the prison that is now her home, fighting to be free of the prognosis the doctors have given her. This “twelve-ness”, as she refers to it. As a way to escape and prove she is capable of more than expected of her, she turns to poetry, crafting the words which have become vocally lost to her with beautiful and unexpected precision.

In an effort to make herself heard, she leaves these secret verses in public places for strangers to find – such as the nearby railway station – taking comfort in the thought that someone will understand her long held secret.

Manny James has secrets himself. He struggles to find his place in this new world in which he has wound up: this place that is so far from his war-torn home of Sierra Leone. Though only sixteen years old, he has seen atrocities and experienced tragedies his classmates would not even dream of and yet he must keep his left-behind identity from them in order to avoid persecution. He must blend in and survive. It’s all about survival and that is one thing that does not change no matter the environment.

Eventually these two misfits, social outcasts if you will, find their way to one another and through the other’s story, find a way to create one of their own. A beauty and understanding that looks beyond what others take at face value. That is what makes this book stand out from other coming of age stories, and in a league all of its own.

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There’s something magical about Millard’s prose as she weaves the tender tale of these two teenagers craving to be heard in a world of static and chaos. Her approach is careful as she takes on topics such as disability – one not often covered well in fiction, let alone novels of this genre – but she does not stray from confrontation, presenting readers with cold hard facts in a way that is subtle but at the same time not allowing them to be ignored.

The Stars at Oktober Bend was my first introduction to this multi award winning author – who has written a number of YA novels and children’s books – but it will by no means be the last. Magical and tender, tragic and terrifying, this book will take readers on a roller-coaster of emotions and a journey you will never forget.

[Editor/Author Note: This review was originally published by The Australia Times.]

 

Interweaving Cultures with Nicole Alexander

[Editor/Author Note: In 2014, I was lucky enough to interview Nicole Alexander about her (then) new book, The Great Plains. This is the resulting interview, which was originally published by Hush Hush Biz. To celebrate the upcoming release of Alexander’s seventh novel, An Uncommon Woman, I thought now would be a great time to share this little flashback!]

Upon the release of her fifth book, The Great Plains, Australian author Nicole Alexander remains humble despite her success.

Leaving behind a high-flying, international career in marketing, Nicole Alexander returned to her family’s property in country New South Wales in the 1990s and quickly found herself immersed in running the family business. Continue reading

Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me (Literature Review)

According to science fiction author Tricia Sullivan, her latest novel Occupy Me represents “twenty years of growth … in every way I can gauge, it outstrips anything else I have written.”

Even before the release of Occupy Me in January of this year, Sullivan has been well-regarded in the world of science fiction. Though she says it is not her best work, her 1998 novel won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award (for Science Fiction Literature), ranking her among some of the world’s great novelists, including Margaret Atwood and Australia’s own George Turner.  She has since gone on to write five other novels under her own name, as well as be nominated for that same prize.

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Get your copy of “Occupy Me” from QBD.

Occupy Me is the story of Pearl – a woman with wings struggling to find her way back home. The problem is, her home isn’t Earth, and she has no real recollection of how she got here. As if that wasn’t enough, the key to solving her mystery: a portal briefcase with access to another dimension, is now in the possession of a psychotic killer posing as the gentle doctor whose body he has overtaken. And he seems hell-bent on destroying the world. Can Pearl catch up to him before he succeeds? Will she find out who she is and return home?

I really wanted to like this novel. Though science fiction is not my usual genre of choice, I was intrigued by the premise and eager to get started, ready to fall in love with a new favourite author. Sadly, this was not the case.

In my opinion, there were too many plot lines in this novel. At times it seemed a bit like a draft, where Sullivan had all these thoughts down on paper in a rush to get to the ultimate climax of the story, but then failed to go back and tie up those loose ends, leaving readers with more questions than answers upon the novel’s conclusion.

Though the characters in this novel were interesting and dynamic, they were overshadowed by complex storylines and a lack of explanation in general. I certainly didn’t see how this could be what the author pretty much referred to as her crowning glory.

This is definitely not what I was expecting from an author so highly regarded and not really enough to make me want to read more of her work. If I was to do so, it would only be for comparison’s sake.

Occupy Me is out now through Hachette Australia.

 

[Editor/Author Note: This review was published by Hush Hush Biz in 2016. View it in its original capacity here.]

Jackie Dee – Six String Heart (Album Review)

As a family therapist and singer-songwriter, Jackie Dee is one busy woman. However, when it comes to music she is not afraid to shy away from tough topics such as domestic violence and mental illness, as evidenced in her third album, Six String Heart.

Though she has been the recipient of many awards and accolades for some time now, it wasn’t until I was asked to review this latest release that Dee’s music featured on my radar. While her debut EP, Tide (2010) earned her high praise from contemporaries in the regional country music arena, she really made a splash in 2013 with her second record, Doors & Windows, when two of the songs earned her a place in the Top 30 of the APRA Professional Development Awards and a Music Oz Awards nomination.

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Check out “Six String Heart” on Apple Music!

Armed with this knowledge, I was eager to see what this obviously talented musician had to offer in Six String Heart, which was officially released at this year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival.

With a strong focus on storytelling and lyricism – reflective of Dee’s comment that this album is a “collection of songs to symbolise a monumentally challenging time for me and my family” – one would be forgiven for expecting the album to feature more traditional-sounding songs, telling stereotypical tales of the downtrodden in life.

As evidenced by album opener and current single, Contemplating Life, this is not always Dee’s approach. While the songs may feature poignant lyrics with an underlying thread of heartbreak, the album has an almost rock/pop-like edge, a freshness that one can easily imagine being played on mainstream radio, alongside the likes of Taylor Swift or Keith Urban.

That said, the ballads are just as important, if not more so, than the more upbeat songs. Take Shipwrecks, for instance, a beautiful duet featuring Shane Nicholson.  Her Free Will tackles domestic violence against women, with a poignancy and timeliness that cannot be denied. Both songs are perfect for showcasing the beauty of Dee’s unique voice and her talent for crafting a great song.

Nicholson returns to feature on the title track, and while there is no ignoring how well these two complement each other, you can’t go past the heart wrenching tale told in Zeppelin’s Playing – which was written about Dee’s final moments with her brother, who recently passed away after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Slightly more pared back than the previous ballads that have featured on the record so far, it’s tenderness and simplicity is enough to tear at even the hardest of heartstrings.

There’s a minor change of pace for the last three songs, if only in terms of a musical sense. It makes for a nice balance of light and dark. Special mention must go to the bluesy intro of Your Girl (another song that is sure to become a favourite) before Summer Wind closes what is, overall, a diverse and vibrant record from a very talented singer-songwriter.

Wholeheartedly, I have no hesitation in recommending Six String Heart to not only country music fans, but music lovers everywhere.

[Editor/Author Note: This review was originally published by AMNplify. To view it on their website, click here.]

 

Honeyblood – Babes Never Die (Album Review)

Following a successful debut album in 2014 and support slots alongside the likes of Deap Vally, Foo Fighters and Australia’s own Courtney Barnett, Scottish duo Honeyblood make a welcome return to recording with their second full-length release, Babes Never Die.

From the second I hit play on Babes Never Die, the speakers fill with a cacophony of noise, like a café on a Monday morning, filled with too many people all engaged in their own conversations and their own worlds. It’s an intro designed to grab the listener’s attention and successfully does so, drawing you in and heightening the anticipation for the first full length song.

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Buy your copy of “Babes Never Die” on iTunes. [Image courtesy of FatCat Records/Cooking Vinyl Australia.]

As someone who hasn’t paid much attention to the duo’s music, I didn’t really know what to expect from an album. With its grungy yet raw rock influence, the title track seems to hark back to the duo’s previous singles (and the only ones that I have heard before now), Killer Bangs and Super Rat. It’s a great way to start off a second album, both as a solid introduction to new listeners and a subtle reminder for long-term fans.

Ready For The Magic, one of Honeyblood’s most recent singles, has a girl group rock appeal that can easily be imagined on radio. Front woman Stina Tweeddale accent is particularly strong as she sings a catchy chorus to Cat Myers’ heavy drum beats.

Love Is A Disease and Sea Hearts continue the radio-ready feel of the album’s first two songs. Myers’ influence on these songs is not quite as apparent (in that the drums are not quite as heavy), they are solid tracks in which you can feel a certain shift in terms of both lyrics and sound.

While the previous tracks have that poppy sense that lend them to mainstream radio tracks that will see the girls enjoying even more success than they have already enjoyed, it is the more “experimental” songs – the ones that see Myers and Tweeddale really stretch themselves in terms of vocal delivery, musicianship, and of course, lyrical quality – that I enjoyed the most.

Walking at Midnight and Sister Wolf are prime examples of the duo’s capabilities. Broken up by the inclusion of the more “poppy” Justine, Misery Queen, these are two which stand out from all others on Babes Never Die’s twelve track listing. There is an edge of haunting overtones (and a dramatic electric guitar lead-in) in which the girls explore the darker side of their music.

Lyrics trigger visions of murky nights in the middle of nowhere; they capture the imagination of the listener and reinforce that the true purpose of a musician’s job is to tell a story. This is particularly evident when Tweeddale sings, “Walking at midnight, midnight/Let the night-time be a disguise” and “Can you hear the wolf?/ She’s gunna come after you, sink those teeth right through”  to a chorus of clashing drums and guitars.

In my experience, ballads are hard for a musician to pull off, particularly when the rest of their music verges on the rockier (and sometimes heavier) side, though if done well, they often make for some of the best songs on an album. Honeyblood’s Cruel Kids is perfect in proving this theory.

The song is almost acoustic in its delivery, with Myers’ drums only used sparingly to allow Tweeddale to shine. And shine she does. Despite the “rockier” edge to Babes Never Dies’ previous tracks, there was always a slight softness to Tweeddale’s voice that I was really looking forward to seeing showcased.

Her voice is enchanting as she sings, “Come here, lay your bones with mine/I feel wasted most of the time/And I’m destroying things, is that a sign?/Maybe I’m, maybe I’m not doing this life thing right.”  Cruel Kids does not disappoint, and is without a doubt, my favourite of the whole record.

Overall, Honeyblood’s Babes Never Die is an impressive effort, full of well-crafted, versatile tracks with tight musicianship and just the right amount of lyrical depth. With this album, the duo has certainly found a new fan in me.

[Editor/Author Note: This review was written for AMNplify in 2016. Click here to view it in its original capacity.]

 

 

 

Safe Hands – Tie Your Soul To Mine (Album Review)

Newcastle natives, Safe Hands first plunged into the Australian rock music scene 10 years ago as a hardcore band with an attitude to match. Their debut EP, Oh The Humanity (2011) and album, Montenegro (2013) earned them support slots with the likes of Norma Jean and Le Dispute, as well as a legion of fans they can now call their own. Their second album, Tie Your Soul To Mine is  out through Lost Boy Records.

After issuing a statement via social media earlier this year addressing their desire to change their public persona and the way in which they relate to fans, it is no real surprise that Tie Your Soul To Mine is a little left of field when compared to what Safe Hands followers are usually used to hearing from their favourite band. That said, they are not about to let go of their hardcore sound without a fight, with many of the tracks featuring that trademark heaviness of guitar, bass and drums.

Tie Your Soul To Mine

Stream Safe Hands’ new album via Bandcamp.

Much like the band itself, Tie Your Soul to Mine, pulls no punches as album opener, Coliseum 1921 begins with vocalist Benjamin Louttit singing, “You build a nest under the radar/ You ride that dead horse from winter to spring, only to realise that nag got you nowhere.” to a little low-key guitar playing. And it’s not long before the cacophony of noise that fans are used to kicks in.

 

The Safe Hands fans know and love find their groove with second track and single, Traffic Island Wreath. From that moment, the music draws in the listener and doesn’t let go. This is the music long-time lovers have been waiting for.

As a new listener not overly familiar with the band’s previous work, these heavier tracks are not necessarily to my particular taste, and for other “newbies”, they may be the equivalent of a punch in the face. But, as someone who is open to all kinds of music, there is generally something I like in all genres, and bands’ music, that surpasses everything else.

In Safe Hands’ case and Tie Your Soul To Mine in particular, the saving grace comes in their storytelling. There is a lyrical quality to each of the songs which, as a writer, I cannot ignore. The aforementioned lyrics of Coliseum 1921 are almost poetic in their delivery, as are that of Small Fortune and Pushed to the Moon – the latter of which has a little more of a “radio ready” appeal to it. In the second last song, Til The Birds Fell Off The Roof, Louttit sings, “Darling, green is the ugliest of colours on you.”, capturing the imagination of listeners beyond the music alone.

Of all the tracks, current single, The Great Affair (which is currently enjoying airplay on Triple J), the aforementioned Til The Birds Fell Off The Roof and Born in the Last Shower are the biggest highlights. For me, they fully showcase how the band have transitioned and grown as artists in the three years since Montenegro. The latter track, in particular, highlights the light and shade of Louttit’s vocals, which many listeners have not had a chance to explore in previous releases.

These particular songs, along with closing track, Wagtails, are in my opinion, the areas in which you can really see the meeting of Safe Hands’ so-called “new” and “old” sound meet to create an overall growth of the band as a whole.

Tie Your Soul To Mine represents something of a turning point for this band. In only their second album, they seem to have found their new sound and a new niche to explore. While this is something of an experimental release for a group that have relied heavily on their “hardcore” side, there is enough diversity within the tracks for both new and old fans to find common ground.

While you’re here, don’t forget to check out my interview with Safe Hands!

[Editor/Author Note: This review was originally written for AMNplify.]

 

Lucinda Williams – Ghosts of Highway 20 (Album Review)

Noted singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams’ rise to fame was slow and it wasn’t until the release of her third album in 1988 that she really made an impact. Since then, she has had a long list of hits including Still I Long for Your Kiss (from the film “The Horse Whisperer”), Changed the Locks and Steal Your Love. Over time, she has received numerous accolades for her music including three Grammy awards.

Williams has also made appearances on other artist’s recordings, including Kasey Chambers’ “Barricades and Brickwalls” (On A Bad Day), Elvis Costello’s “The Delivery Man” (There’s a Story in Your Voice) and most recently, provided backing vocals on Don Henley’s “Cass County” (Train in the Distance).

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Listen to “The Ghosts of Highway 20” on Spotify.

Now 63 years old, she returns with her twelfth studio album, “The Ghosts of Highway 20”. Despite having only been released earlier this week, the recording is already receiving rave reviews by critics and fans alike, something which caused me to have rather high expectations when it came to writing my own review.

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Interview with Pete Kilroy of Hey Geronimo

Aussie rockers Hey Geronimo are set to release their sophomore album and head back on the road to share their new music with fans. In light of that, I’m taking a trip down memory lane by posting this interview with the band’s lead singer, Pete Kilroy leading up to the release of their debut record, Crashing Into The Sun.

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Congratulations on finishing your debut album, Crashing Into The Sun. Are you feeling nervous in the lead up to its official release on July 1st?

Not really. We’ve crossed the t’s and we’ve dotted the i’s. We’re happy with the record, and that’s all you can really do, you know. We spent enough time making it; we didn’t rush anything. We’re happy with the way it turned out so it’s kind of like, it is what it is and the way it’s received is not up to us anymore.

 

How long have you been working on the record for?

It’s been a couple of years. We had some line-up changes which stalled our progress a little bit but once the line-up got settled, it came together quite quickly. We’ve got a couple of tunes off our last couple of EPs … We did two EPs and now we’ve got the full-length album.

 

What inspired you to write new music?

It was an interesting one, because the line-up changes made writing a little difficult. Once it got settled, Bingers [Bill Bingley, bassist] was really motivated. That sort of motivated everyone else. I think it was a case of getting new blood into the band and getting the right line-up, and everybody was motivated and everybody was keen, spurring each other on. That’s what motivated us [in] finishing the record.

We’d started it and we were well on the way to doing it. We just needed to make sure we had all our ducks in a row and once we had everything settled, it came pretty easy.

 

What has been your favourite part of the album-making process overall?

We really enjoy being in the studio, creating the songs, turning a demo into something more polished, I guess, for want of a better word. Just in the studio and being creative. Lots of musicians feel that way; it’s kind of the ultimate. ‘Cos you can’t do it all the time … That’s the most enjoyable part of the process for us.

 

What was the recording process like for this album?

We recorded in lots of different studios, lots of different producers. We recorded with Matt Redlich – who did all the Ball Park Music stuff, … Magoo – one of Australia’s most famous producers, really. We did some recording with Steven Schram (he mixed the record) – he does all of San Sisco’s stuff. We recorded some stuff ourselves.

It was a bit of everything; almost like a hodge-podge of piecing it together, making sure it was right, that we had the right songs on there and the sound was right.

 

You’ve done track-by-track album preview [nicknamed Twelve Days of the Apocalypse] recently on social media. How are fans responding to the new music so far?

I think it’s been good. This sort of thing’s been done before … but the fact that we’ve got little commentaries on there is really great. The fact that people can tune in everyday and hear a new song is kind of cool … We’ve got a different piece of art for every tune [featured in the videos] that tells a bit of a story about the song. It’s kind of cool to be able to show everybody that as well.

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Visit the band’s web-store to get your copy of Hey Geronimo’s debut album.

What’s your favourite track on the album?

Bermuda, song number six [on the album]. It’s a song Ross [Pearson, guitarist] wrote about his car going on an undersea adventure, which is a pretty original idea for a song, I think. It’s really cool … Usually with a tune, someone brings it in and everyone has a bit of their own input but [he] brought this song in that was a hundred percent finished, literally every last lick, every last note was pre-planned. You can hear it in the song; it’s such a well put together tune.

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Sigrid – Don’t Kill My Vibe (EP Review)

Having spent the last few years honing her craft, Norwegian artist Sigrid is tipped to have a stellar career following the recent release of her debut EP, Don’t Kill My Vibe.

According to her label, Universal Music/Island Records UK, “she personifies cool, but doesn’t know it yet, and is as worth getting as excited about as when Lorde first appeared with Royals.” It’s a lot of hype to live up to, particularly for someone only just out of their teens.

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Download your copy of “Don’t Kill My Vibe” here.

Often younger artists will be touted as the “best thing since sliced bread”, only to fail when push comes to shove. Before listening to this record, I was a little cynical, although open to discovering a new pop gem, which is exactly what happened.

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