Category Archives: Writers

The year of independent reading

Wonderful things happen when you open a bookshop. Ours started as a single set of shelves in one corner of the studio-gallery my husband and I created, The Makers Shed at Glen Innes in the NSW New England region. A year on, we’ve expanded, and we’re about to present our first literary award.

But it didn’t just happen by accident. Our resident High Country Book Club courageously joined us on a reading project with a purpose: to decide the best book in a year’s worth of independently-published reads.

When we started out, Richard and I found ourselves explaining a lot about indie books, but these days we barely mention that these titles have not been backed by a traditional publishing/marketing team. This is mainly because what readers want out of a book is the same thing no matter where it sprang from, and that’s a well-told story.

The club kicked off with a visit from London-based author Patsy Trench, who’d come to chat about her new non-fiction title A Country To Be Reckoned With.

This title is Patsy’s search for her great-great grandfather George Matcham Pitt, one of Australia’s earliest stock and station agents. The journey of discovery sheds an engaging new light on the European heritage of Australia.

We moved onto fiction for our next read. New Zealander Jenni Ogden’s acclaimed debut novel A Drop in the Ocean is set predominantly on an island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It’s the story of an high-achieving American academic who hits rock bottom and decides to relocate to the other side of the world to work at a remote turtle sanctuary. It took me by surprise with its memorable castaways working out their lives on the edge of an ocean wilderness.

The ocean was a major theme of our next title, Nothing But Blue, by American author Diane Meyer Lowman.

The true story of her adventure while working on a German container ship as it sailed from New York to Australia and New Zealand in the late Seventies, this book bravely recreated the perspective of a 19-year-old thrust into several alien environments.

Nothing But Blue and A Drop in the Ocean were published by She Writes Press, one of the world’s biggest joint-venture publishing outfits assisting women to get their manuscripts published.

Australian author Kim Kelly paid us a visit in March to chat about her novel Lady Bird & The Fox and explained how creating the Indigenous protagonist of her book – Annie Bird – also encouraged her to courageously self-publish. After having her first few works published traditionally, Kim sensed her Gold Rush heroine might have languished while waiting for a publisher with enough courage in this #OwnVoices world.

The true story of a beloved dog who endured a spinal stroke was our next read. Nobody Told Me My Legs Don’t Work is a memoir with a difference by American writer Travis C. Yates.

A short but emotional ride, this publication sparked plenty of debate about animal rights and the ethics of domestic animal ownership.

Infants of the Brush by A. M. Watson is an historical fiction that recreates a real-life Eighteenth Century legal case and the gritty, challenging world of the boy chimney sweeps of London.

Amy kindly made us a video outlining the broad research she conducted which underpins the historical accuracy in her novel.

Euan Mitchell’s Feral Tracks brought us all back home with an Australian story about a teenager who leaves homes with a few dollars and some big issues to sort out on the road, as he hitchhikes across the country in search of purpose.

One of Australia’s most enduring self-published titles, this work was a confronting study of manhood in some tough Aussie environments.

English author William Blyghton provided plenty of contrast in his debut novel The House By The Marsh, which is also a study of manhood, but in a very different environment.

A story of grief late in life, this tale of human connection is set in several corners of evocative East Anglia, a county that we discovered was the birthplace of many novels, from works by Patricia Highsmith to Janet Frame.

We stayed in England for our read of Virginia Moffatt’s Echo Hall, a work of historical fiction set across multiple time periods in and around the same imposing home in another remote county of the United Kingdom.

With its ruminations on war and pacifism, Virginia’s intriguing, layered work explores the motivations of several families and their experiences of conflict, both domestic and between nations.

One of our country’s great marriage equality campaigners penned our next read, a very Australian read about human rights.

Shelley Argent’s memoir Just A Mum tells the story of her Brisbane upbringing and explores how this suburban wife and mother became an equality activist in the wake of one son’s coming out, and pushed this necessary social reform all the way to the gripping finale in Australia’s Parliament House.

We ended the year reading The Moor by English author Sam Haysom, a mystery story replete with characters facing enormous moral choices in and around a deceivingly simple wilderness walk.

Another intriguing debut novel, Sam’s book was created during 2015’s NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month), and published through Unbound. This crowdfunding publisher assists writers in bringing their ideas into life in book form, and is also the stable that Echo Hall sprang from.

All High Country Book Club titles are available for purchase from The Makers Shed, and can be posted to readers within Australia. Browse our online bookshop.

Congratulations to all the finalists in 2019… we’ve been thrilled, frightened, inspired, moved, angered, entertained and encouraged to keep reading by your engaging works of fiction and non-fiction.

Trophy handmade by Richard Moon.

The winner of the High Country Indie Book Award 2019 will be announced during the High Country Writers Festival on Saturday November 30, from 4 to 6pm at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, NSW, Australia. All welcome!

Cultivating storytellers in the rural heartland

LOCAL FANS OF good writing have every reason to celebrate, with a season of literary initiatives and acclaimed broadcaster Mary Moody — coming to the New England region between October 25th and December 1st for the High Country Writers Festival. As an author and journalist who learned to use the written word at Delungra Public School, I’m thrilled to be bringing wordsmiths together in a region that has always fostered storytellers.

RURAL HEARTLAND: Waterloo Station, Glen Innes.

Writers will have a unique opportunity to prime their skills and draw inspiration at iconic Waterloo Station between Glen Innes and Inverell when the festival kicks off at the High Country Writers Retreat from October 25th to 27th. Inverell resident Virginia Eddy (the force behind Boorama, her business strategy outfit, pictured above) is partnering with The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, to assist writers in adopting a micro-business approach.

Returning to the region after four decades has been huge for Virginia. “When I left my Melbourne world, a friend told me: ‘Don’t ever forget that there is a reason you are returning. Look and listen for it’,” she says. “Even though I’ve been here for six years, every time I drive out the Yetman Road north of Inverell, I’m imbued with the deep sense that I’m going home. Our family left the region when I was ten.”

Virginia believes that being a writer and being in business can be a comfortable coexistence. “Regardless of whether writers are published independently or by traditional means, business knowledge and acumen underpins their capacity for independence,” she says. “Micro-businesses should be built on the same primary foundations and frameworks as major corporations, except scaled accordingly”.

“I urge writers to imagine they are weaving potent little miracles of business around their output. These don’t happen with templates, or overnight. They’re a lifelong practice.”

TOUCH OF LUXURY: Waterloo Station Shearers Lodgings.

Despite one of the worst droughts we’ve seen in the New England, Virginia encourages writers to share Waterloo Station as a home-away-from-home during the retreat. “Whether they’re from the bush, the city, or both, it’s a chance to pause, absorb the landscape, the built environment, the past and evolving social history,” she says. “I believe the Station’s restorations (under the stewardship of Deborah and Don Anderson) will speak for themselves; but as a writer working on one of my own manuscripts, I look forward to hearing others’ perspectives.”

Being a regional-returner myself, I know what it’s like to seek a sense of place in a rural community. Growing up on a property out of Delungra prepared me for the profound tranquility of rural life, but living and working across the world has allowed me to bring home a host of skills.

I began mentoring writers after my independently-published memoir Questionable Deeds was selected for the Brisbane Writers Festival. I was so swamped by queries about how I managed it that I wrote the process into a short, accessible guidebook. Participants at the High Country Writers Retreat will be mentored on adapting these principles to their writing and publishing practices.

But there’ll also be plenty of writing time, one-to-one sessions and inspirational experiences at Waterloo Station. Virginia is well underway with transitioning into a literary writer, and I am always up for fresh insights into business and marketing, so we’ll be attending each other’s sessions at the retreat. Come and join us!

From the heart

The High Country Writers Festival continues on Saturday November 30th and Sunday December 1st at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, when Mary Moody, one of Australia’s most beloved and bestselling authors, launches her first book in a decade: The Accidental Tour Guide. She spoke with me about what inspired her to return to autobiography.

Mary Moody

“Memoir forces people to reflect on the events of their lives and to gain an understanding of how they reacted to those moments,” she says. “I have found that writing down difficult events somehow crystallizes them. The Accidental Tour Guide contrasts the highs of exploration and adventure against the lows of death and loss.”

Since the publication of a string of bestselling memoirs, bridging her life in rural France and regional Australia, Mary has relocated from the farm she shared with her late husband, filmmaker David Hannay.

“I now live with my youngest son and his family in the Blue Mountains. This supportive environment makes it possible for me to continue my adventure travels, knowing I have a safe haven to return to, every time,” she says.

Mary will also hold her popular ‘Writing from the Heart’ workshop at The Makers Shed during the festival. “I never cease to be amazed and delighted at the stories people tell me of their amazing lives. It’s just knowing where to start and how to keep those stories flowing. Often people want to write the stories of their parents or grandparents and these are equally as inspiring. I believe we will never tire of reading about other people’s lives. It helps us to make sense of our own.”

The tussle between nesting and migrating is a constant theme in Mary’s work, giving insights into the fortunes of regional communities in many countries. “It’s always the people that create a community, and it makes me sad to see regions where failing economics makes it impossible for people to live where they were born,” she says. “We need to encourage more young families to live in rural areas – the benefits of this lifestyle are many and varied.”

Described as Eat, Pray, Love meets The Year of Magical Thinking, Mary’s new memoir is an inner and outer journey through uncharted territory. “I’m really looking forward to touring with this new book. I particularly love small independent bookshops and places where there are active and enthusiastic book clubs. Australians are great readers – they devour good books and it’s wonderful to know that here we have such a vibrant and viable publishing industry. At the end of the day I just love meeting people and talking.”

The High Country Writers Festival is an initiative of The Makers Shed. This article was first published in New England Living magazine.

Aussie tales told with a passion for diversity

“I love to start a conversation, not just about my stories but about Australian stories generally”

AUTHOR Kim Kelly is renowned for diving into the historical details behind her popular novels, and as Glen Innes is soon to discover she loves visiting country towns in pursuit of inspiration.

“I often think I only write novels as an excuse to ferret through piles of ephemera and social trivia,” Kelly said.

“My head is an historical hoarder’s junkyard. I once bailed up a local historian at Gulgong’s Pioneer Museum to interrogate him about early washing machines.”

Kelly’s 2018 title Lady Bird & The Fox is a Victorian-era novel set in the NSW Central West, where she resides.

“I was definitely always going to tell a Gold Rush tale,” she said.

“And as scary as it was to contemplate, I was probably always going to write a sparklingly smart and wonderful Aboriginal heroine.

“I grew up at La Perouse, in Sydney, where the Aboriginal community is vibrant and diverse; the girlfriends I made and the education I received there were an enormous influence on me, and still are. Annie Bird from the novel is in many ways a tribute to those women who have had such an impact on my life.”

As she was gathering inspiration for the book, Kelly came across a newspaper snippet about an Aboriginal bushranger known as Mary Ann Bugg.

“The story sparks began to fly and the voice of Annie Bird emerged – pulling on her knee-high boots and ready to go,” she said.

“But I can’t write an Aboriginal character, can I? That was my first fear. I have no right to take on the voice of someone so culturally and historically different. For a couple of years I wrestled with the question, but Annie just wouldn’t leave me alone.

“She deserved a handsome hero, I supposed – as most of my stories involve some kind of love story, not just romantic love, but partnering, nourishing love, love that leads to all kinds of discoveries.

“Jem Fox is one of my favourite characters so far. Apart from being a very naughty boy and therefore fun to write, in so many ways he represents my own search for my Jewish heritage – and there was a flamboyant rake or two in that lot.”

Kelly describes the search for her Jewish forebears as “a trip like no other” that led to discoveries about the prejudice and difficulties they faced, and the contributions they made to colonial business and industry.

“Those Jews of the gold rush era gave us our first Australian-born governor-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs, and our most famous soldier, Sir John Monash, both born during those ‘wild west’ days – and, eventually, me!” she said.

Publishing savvy

Kim Kelly is a ghostwriter and book editor with over twenty years’ experience in the Australian publishing industry, yet she still makes time for talking to readers in country libraries.

“The most common reaction I receive at book talks is appreciation that I’m telling Australian tales,” she said.

“Often, there’s interest in my publishing background, too, so I tend to get a few questions about the nuts and bolts of writing and how to get your work out there.”

Kelly is what’s known as a ‘hybrid author’: one who has titles traditionally-published and who also self-publishes.

“All of my novels except for Lady Bird & The Fox and my forthcoming, Sunshine, were originally traditionally-published,” she said.

“My new, independently-published titles and republished backlist are produced by a team I’ve put together myself – editor Alexandra Nahlous, designer Alissa Dinallo, and publisher Joel Naoum.

“It was really important to me that I employ experienced and respected industry professionals if I was going to go out on my own.

“It began as a bit of an experiment, just to see what was possible and what I might learn, and has far exceeded my expectations – not just financially, but in terms of publishing pleasure.”

Despite studying literature and history at Sydney University and the University of New England, it took Kelly a long time to summon the courage to write a novel.

“It wasn’t until I lucked out landing a job at Random House as a book editor that the world of writing possibility opened up for me,” she said.

“Working with so many different authors, from Miles Franklin winners to the big names in romance, taught me so much and dared me to make my secret storytelling dreams a reality.

“Wherever I go, I love to start a conversation, not just about my stories but about Australian stories generally. Sometimes the chat is quite lively, and whenever we go over time, or I hear readers still chatting as they leave, it gives me such a high.

“All of my novels take a moment in Australian social and political history and explore it with that sense of wonder and curiosity, as well as a deep love and gratitude for this amazing country we call home.”

Author Kim Kelly in conversation at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, for the High Country Handmade Showcase, March 3.