Tag Archives: Writing

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.

Writer, identify yourself!

JOURNALIST and writer Michael Burge spent over six years writing full time, including three years contributing online articles, before embarking on the publication of a range of books across 2015-2016, titles he wrote while developing a social media readership.

The Write, Regardless! series of no-nonsense articles explains how Michael went from a good writer, to an Amazon bestselling author (without getting ripped off along the way).

Is Write, Regardless! for me?

“The reason that manuscript remains unpublished is not the sick, sad, selfish world, but because you have not published it yet.”

Here’s a checklist. I’ll be honest and upfront in these posts. I’ll also keep things light, because I have just finished publishing some very serious books, and I need a lift! I’ll link to Wikipedia quite often, so if you don’t like updated, peer-reviewed, democratised information, Write, Regardless! is definitely not for you.

Wikipedia? Are you serious?

I regularly consult Wikipedia because many online entities don’t really want us to know exactly how they work (so they can charge us money). At Wikipedia, other people have spent time sharing how things work, and I’m assuming you’ve got enough of a bullshit monitor that if someone hacked Wikipedia and posted: “Marilyn Monroe was actually a donkey”, you’d work out they’re trying to trick you, right?

If you don’t identify yourself as a writer, no one will do it for you.

Hopefully you’re coming with me on the crazy ride that the Write, Regardless! series will be, aimed at anyone who can write, or perhaps has a ’embarrassing’ manuscript sitting in a desk draw or on a computer somewhere. The reason that manuscript remains unpublished is not the sick, sad, selfish world, but because you have not published it yet. Time to get real, join the publishing industry, and do it yourself. Many thousands of successful writers have taken this path before you. Many have been ripped off by charlatans, and I am here to help us avoid that.

Don’t start by writing anything

Writing is way down on the list of jobs you need to start doing. I’ll assume you know how, have some work under your belt, and a regular writing schedule. Your first task is to identify yourself so readers can find you. There are a few ways to do this. The ones I know about are Gravatar and Google. Because you are the best spokesperson of your work, in fact probably its only spokesperson, eventually you’ll want readers to find you.

Gravatar is good

A ‘globally recognised avatar’ does a really cool thing – wherever you participate on the internet, a Gravatar lets your identity follow you, and if people like the comment you made on The Huffington Post, they’ll be able to find your website, and therefore maybe get interested in your writing. That’s called being discoverable. If you’d rather hide behind a name like ‘Hawkwind Gamester of the Windy Witches’ and have no identifiable online presence, go for it, but best put that name on all your books, not your real name. If you want people to start identifying and understanding you, and therefore your books, get a free Gravatar account today, with a real headhot of yourself. Gravatar accounts go hand in hand with WordPress websites (more on those in coming articles).

Google is good

A few years ago, Google got even savvier than it already was and started allowing people access to a Google account linked to all kinds of portals, including Blogger (the alternative to WordPress for website hosting). The best part about a Google account is it lets Google know what you’re up to. Don’t be scared! Telling the world’s largest online information aggregator what you’re up to is called publicity, essential for publishing (see what I did there? The root word is the same in publish, publicity, publication… your public, darling). Sign up for a free Google account. Here’s mine.

Set and forget your Google and Gravatar accounts

You’re not going to need to go in and out of these places very often (phew). Eventually I’ll explain how to update them automatically without leaving your website. For now, the only other thing to do is to keep a list of your account names and passwords – you’re going to end up with a few of them during Write, Regardless! Keep them somewhere safe and accessible.

google-monster-1Keeping online platforms in their place

Online platforms will continually promote ‘bells and whistles’ (attractive additional features or trimmings). Very often, they’ll try to trick you into thinking you need ‘premium’ products, or provide extra information like your email address or your mobile phone number, in order to increase your security levels or to maximise your visibility. I have the most basic accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google, SoundCloud, YouTube, Canva, Ingram Spark, Amazon Author Central (don’t freak out at this list, I will explain them all in future articles) Gravatar and MailChimp, and until recently the free WordPress account, which I upgraded only so I could host video/audio marketing content. Stay on your guard when navigating online platforms. Don’t click ‘yes’ unless you’re sure you have to. ‘Cancel’ or ‘skip’ buttons are best unless you’re sure you want to alter something.

Sharing information

Online platforms will sometimes ask your permission to share your information with your followers, which you’ll want to do, since it’s these networks of friends, family and interested people who are our readership base. Say yes to those prompts, it’s simply a legal requirement of the platform to ask.

Internet fears

The internet can be a big scary place, and rip-off merchants are out there, sure, but I have not come across any real monsters. The only times I have wasted money on my publishing journey was through being ill-informed. The main internet shenanigans I see are the corporate obstacles that big companies place in the way of their competition, and sometimes writers have our pathways impacted by these shifts that are out of our control. Move bravely between giants!



Get your free Gravatar and Google accounts sorted, start a safe place for usernames and passwords, then get on with your day job secure in the knowledge that the internet now knows who you are. Don’t be scared, because that means readers! (Whoosh! There go your internet fears!).

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

I’m a day job superhero

keep-calm-and-don-t-quit-your-dayjobA Writer’s other resume.

I’VE been writing full-time for six years, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually told anyone I am a writer.

The jobs of wordsmith – writing, rewriting, editing, selling, waiting – have occupied so much of my time that I have gone through two (diminishing) eyesight diagnoses. If I was a Hipster using a real typewriter, by now I’d have RSI…

But what I do carry is a certain amount of shame about my vocation.

“All-you-can-eat free popcorn is not a great deal after all.”

I know exactly why this is. Firstly, I have not had any of my major works published or performed (yet). Secondly, I still suffer from the illusion that it’s one’s day job – that which you get paid for – that is the only acceptable answer to that most difficult of questions for anyone who has not chosen a safe career: “So, what do you do?”

I worked on a print floor in my last year of school, and waited tables to put myself through university, but I don’t count these as real ‘day jobs’.

Day jobs are those employment periods you undertake to survive while keeping dreams alive. The Queen of day-jobbers was New York writer Helene Hanff, who floated her writing on the greatest number of day jobs I’ve ever encountered in a creative.

I’m proud of my day jobs. They’ve saved me from hunger and homelessness, and given me great inspiration for writing.

So, here it is – my ‘other curriculum vitae’ – another way to look at what I’ve done with my life.

Male applicants considered

When I moved to London a friend lined me up with her employment agency, who leapt at the chance to have a man on her books. I only managed to type 36 words a minute (40 was the minimum), so was sent to walk the halls of HarperCollins publishing in west London as a mail trolley boy. Most annoying moment: being so close to real publishers on a daily basis, but having nothing to submit. Career defining moment: deciding I was meant to start writing seriously.

Catering experience essential

If you can’t get a traineeship with the BBC, and you weren’t in the Cambridge Footlights, you can still have a career in London entertainment if you start as a post-production runner. Like ‘sandwich artist’ is designed to net desperate creatives, so ‘post-production runner’ entraps desperate media wannabes… it’s basically catering for the fabulous people. Most annoying moment: not having enough ciabatta to serve lunch to a hungry media maven. Career defining moment: resigning in order to find a job making programs instead of catering for them.

The misunderstood usher in Edward Hopper's 'New York Movie'.
CINEMA LEGEND The misunderstood usher in Edward Hopper’s ‘New York Movie’.

Good screen presence preferred

Ushering is the staple income of performers – it’s so close to the stage and the screen you can smell it, yet it’s far enough away to keep you driven to find your break wherever you can take it. South of the Thames in the genteel village of Greenwich I took to ticket collecting and didn’t look back. Most annoying moment: realising all-you-can-eat free popcorn is not a great deal after all. Career defining moment: seeing movies so many times I came to understand they’re full of the kind of mistakes media students routinely get shamed for.

Vegetarians need not apply

I came home from England, came out, and landed in career no-man’s-land. When the applications went nowhere, I went to the local Coles supermarket to work in the delicatessen. Refreshing the grey surface of trays of liver has never been as exciting. Warning for shoppers: deli staff give you nick-names based on your lip-licking, hungry-eyed facial expressions. Most annoying moment: having to hide in the cool room to avoid my high school classmates and teachers. Career defining moment: my Food Handling and Hygiene Certificate.

Willing to travel

It got me out of liver and shaved ham, but the travel industry was undiscovered country of its own. Daily struggles with brochure sorting, accounting systems, and fakey-fake customer service saw me come undone about the time I was let go because they only needed someone to cover the pre-Christmas rush. Most annoying moment: having to remind the boss that giving discount deals only to straight people was actually illegal. Career defining moment: seeing the new girl with the Ivana Trump hairdo go to lunch and never come back.

Mature outlook a positive

Suddenly widowed at 34, career dreams down the toilet, I joined the ranks of return-to-work mums and the recently redundant, caring for older people living in their own homes. Most annoying moment: when I realised the system was so stacked against many older people there’s almost nothing you can do to really help them. Career defining moment: it’ll come to me one day.

Good night vision a plus

Taking punters’ tickets at the door, playing with sound and light in enormous accoustically-perfect caverns, telling stories with drama and comedy, and often getting a round of applause… well, cave guiding was a distracting day job and fitness program in one. Most annoying moment: the petty jealousies and power trips of the public service… can’t pick one. Career defining moment: fooling entire Ghost Tour groups into believing we were completely lost.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.