Interview by Sophie Moeller – from the Lismore Echo
WHEN Judith Johnson got the email from the US to say her romance novel had been accepted, she couldn’t believe what she was reading.
After all, Beachwalk Press is a huge e-book outfit in the US and the romance genre is a hard one to crack for any author.
“I showed my husband and asked him ‘Why would they want mine?’ and he replied ‘Well, why did you send it off in the first place?’”
But it is not only Judith who is thrilled with the news. Her support network, the Rainbow Writers book group in Lismore, is also sharing in the triumph.
After all, it is they who have been with her every step of the way as she plotted and read out excerpts of her Torres Strait Island contemporary romance, Pearls of The Past.
The group has been meeting to hone their craft since 2003. They travel religiously to the Romance Writers of Australia conferences each year and spend hours workshopping and preparing manuscripts to be judged and appraised by the international organisation, which boasts more than 1000 members worldwide.
“We share in the joys when the news is good – it’s ‘woo hoo!’ And when it’s not we just mumble ‘they obviously didn’t read it, that element was definitely in there’,” says Judith, laughing.
Carla Ashburn has been with the Rainbow Writers the shortest time and has been instrumental in setting up a website for the group. She will tell you there is a real art to criticism.
“It is very important to be supportive. A critique can be really crushing. It can be too much to take and stop a person writing altogether. The group is a safe environment for honest feedback,” she said.
For the uninitiated there is a lot to the world of romantic fiction, and many different ways to arrest a beating heart: there’s high tension sexy, country, mystery, suspense, young adult, vampire and even hunger games.
Tina Rothbury, who has won prizes for her short stories, writes women’s fiction.
She recognised her calling early when her school friends would gather around as she spontaneously began telling stories out loud.
This same school provides the premise of the novel she is currently working on, A Single Bullet. The true story tells of a shooting in her school’s chapel in the 1960s in which the girl sitting next to her was killed.
Dorothy Martin writes suspense and one of the group’s mainstays, Jennifer Hoff, has already proved herself successful, having published books of Australian historical fiction.
Judith is looking forward to her quarterly payment from the US but said the reward for this former Girl Guide commissioner is not the pot of gold, but the knowledge “you are never too old to learn a new craft” – not to mention to enjoy the friendships made along the way.
Link to full article Lismore Echo
By Judith Johnson
At the recent RWA Conference I had the pleasure of meeting Meredith Appleyard.
Meredith Appleyard lives in the Clare Valley wine-growing region of South Australia. As a registered nurse and midwife, she has worked in a wide range of country health practice settings, including the Royal Flying Doctor Service. When she isn’t writing, Meredith is reading, helping organise the annual Clare Writers’ Festival, or at home with her husband and her border collie, Lily. She is the author of The Country Practice, The Doctor Calling and No Job for a Girl.
1 We are told to write what we like to read, does or did this, influence you?
Yes, the books I’ve read over the years have influenced me – not so much in what I write about, but simply, that I write. For me, a prolific reader for ever, the transition to writing as well as reading books seemed like a natural progression. Looking back, I don’t think I ever imagined not writing a novel one day.
2 How were you first recognised? Did you pitch or just send your manuscript to a publishing company?
At a writers’ masterclass I had the opportunity to pitch my manuscript to an acquisitions editor from Penguin. She liked what I pitched and asked for the full manuscript. Several months later I was offered a contract for that book. I’d never pitched before that and to say I was nervous would be an understatement. When I opted to do the masterclass I knew I’d have the opportunity to pitch and I went along prepared. Some say I was lucky; I like to think it was more about preparation meeting opportunity.
3 At the back of your mind does the question arise, “Will this sell”? Or is your story straight from the heart hoping it meets with approval?
I’m sure there’s not one author out there who doesn’t think this at some time or another! That’s not to say your story shouldn’t be straight from the heart. It should always be. But let’s face it, most people who write for publication want to earn money and so of course they are going to hope that their work sells. Your next publishing contract will most likely be determined by how well your last book sold. As harsh as it sounds, publishing is a business and publishers do what they do because they make money from it.
4 How do you choose the setting for your story?
So far my stories have been set in places I know and have experienced to some extent. A country girl from the get go, I know about rural SA; as a registered nurse and midwife for thirty-five plus years, I learned about the challenges and complexities of delivering affordable health services to small country communities. And I love country and outback SA.
5 Are you disciplined, or out it all pours. And your writing process, do you have a particular place and time?
As a writer with a deadline I have to be disciplined. Am I as disciplined as I’d like to be? No! I’ve tried putting my backside on the chair by 9am Monday – Friday; not leaving the desk until I’ve reached my daily word count … Alas, this doesn’t work as well for me as it does for others. I’m more of a binge writer. When the words are flowing, I keep at it. The afternoon is my best time, from about 3pm onwards. Maybe that’s because I was a shift worker for most of my life. Basically, you’ll eventually sort out what works for you.
6 Looking back, what do you consider have been the major milestones in your career?
Having a friend challenge me to do what I always wanted to do – write a novel, was a huge turning point in my life. And then being published was a major milestone. But the greatest achievement was finishing my very first manuscript. Really, that’s what’s separates out the successful writers from the wannabes – finishing that manuscript.
7 What advice would you give to Aspiring Writers other than to write?
Finish that manuscript! And maybe join a writers group – but be sure it offers what you need for where you are on your writing journey. Go to writers’ conferences, festivals, seminars, workshops, and hang around with other people who love to write. It’s a solitary and sometimes lonely occupation and it’s important to have a handful of encouraging, supportive, and like-minded friends.
Writing may be a solitary endeavour, however, we managed to write nineteen short stories, put them together and make a book with the title of ‘Just Imagine Short Stories.’ It was fun, it made us laugh, read out loud, agree and the opposite. It taught me how hard it was to get every little thing right. As our stories are all different, so was our ways of writing them. Sometimes the formatting was a nightmare. When it went well it was a dream. Margins had to be the same, we had to agree on the font, the spacing and just every little thing. Eight of us wrote nineteen short stories.
We met once a month in each other’s houses, with the story we wished to include. We did this with biscuits, chocolate and other delights and copious cups of tea and coffee. Our task was to edit and then edit again. We all had red pens we used copiously. We read and marked each other’s stories. When we were finely ready we used Lulu.com. It is now on the iBookstore site. We may have another try. It was a good experience into how books get published.