Writing Teen Novels with Kaz Delaney

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending an author event with the delightful Kaz Delaney at Wangi Library. Kaz was there to talk about writing for teens and young adults. It was a nice small gathering, just under 20, people who were readers, writers, and book lovers alike. I have seen Kaz speak at multiple events and it is always a pleasure to see to her, as always she was delightful, larger than life and very friendly.

Kaz told us all about how she grew up in and around Newcastle, a Novacastrian born and bred. She also regaled us with stories about growing up and some of the adventures she had. One of my favourite things about author talks is hearing about how they came to be an author. There are always people wanting to know how to get published, but those stories aren’t the same as hearing how an author got published in my opinion. The personal journey of each author is different and fascinating and Kaz’s was no different. One of the things that stayed with me was that she said she had always planned on sending something in but life got in the way. It is reassuring to hear that life pushes its way into the plans of everybody and it isn’t something to feel bad about, especially when it can’t be helped.

With her 20th year of publishing this year Kaz has 70 books under her belt writing across the board, for teenagers and children alike. Her first big lesson learnt was to trust the editor who had critiqued her first submitted story and while she admits her entry into the writing world was a fairly easy entrée, it did not mean it wasn’t hard work and she acknowledges she was very fortunate. But she has also had her share of rejection, and another interesting lesson she gave us was that in her opinion you can’t really call yourself an author until you’ve been rejected. But you must also see the rejection for what it is, nothing against you personally but rather a critique on the work, separate yourself from it and don’t let it get you down.

Kaz spoke about how it is tough to be author, much harder than it was 20 years ago but noted there are more opportunities for writers these days. What was interesting was Kaz’s take on it. She understands that it gives people more chances but it has the possibility of harming the industry. This I completely understand, with the self publishing world taking off, more people can be published but there is a risk that the quality is not at the same standard as the traditional publishing route is known for, reducing the quality of the work that is being released. As Kaz mentioned, there is a lot of work that gets put out there that was rejected for a reason, and with people anxious to get their work out they don’t always do the extra work to make it right, people need to do themselves the best favour they can when it comes to getting their work out there.

Just before she finished up Kaz gave us some great advice on teen writing. She gave us ten excellent tips in making sure the work is authentic, and of good quality, including a few great insights we should remember. I would love to look at these points in more detail but I won’t do it here, but her top ten list is some excellent advice in how to make your young adult novel, any story really, work for you.

  1. See the world through the eyes of a character. Continually remind yourself who is telling the story.
  2. Don’t get distracted by sparkly things, that is don’t be distracted by a great new idea if it doesn’t fit within your story.
  3. Decisions made by characters must make emotional sense, most teen decisions won’t make logical sense but they must make emotional sense.
  4. Popular culture references can ground or not ground a story so you should be careful, and be wary of copyright issues.
  5. Swearing/not swearing, sex, drugs etc cannot be ignored. You can’t write for teens without tipping your hat to it.
  6. Pacing the novel is important.
  7. There is always hope. You don’t need to end with happily ever after but you always need hope.
  8. Know your genre. Read other books in your genre and notice themes, style etc to guide you.
  9. Love your audience. It’s hard to write in and hard to get published if you don’t like your audience. If you don’t like children and teens don’t write for them.
  10. Don’t limit yourself to writing for young adult.

If you ever get to see Kaz or any author at an event it is never a wasted moment. You can learn so much about writing and books, even if you are not interested in creating yourself it is always wonderful hearing from your favourite author and it lets them know they’re appreciated as well. It is truly a great time and yesterday was another one of those great events I was glad to have attended.

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Tiddas Talking: Good friends and writers Anita Heiss and Lisa Heidke in conversation

This afternoon I went to the wonderful author event at Charlestown Library with Anita Heiss and Lisa Heidke who were talking about writing for women and the importance and joys of friendship. Anita Heiss, author of the new release Tiddas as well as Avoiding Mr Right and  Not Meeting Mr Right teamed up with fellow author and friend Lisa Heidke, author of Stella Makes Good, Claudia’s Big Break , and What Kate Did

Lisa Heidke

I will admit I have not read a lot/any “Chick Lit” but I am starting to, I had read about Lisa and Anita’s books though and they grabbed by attention, and having just purchased one of each I am looking forward to diving in. I grew more eager the longer I listened to them chat and I especially liked that Anita’s were summed up as “social justice, Australian national identity, in the friendship guise”.

Even before the pair started to discuss their books it was wonderful listening to the friendly banter and jesting between them. I saw a few similarities with myself and friends, and I’m looking forward to still acting like that and being that close years down the track.

Lisa started the conversation talking about Anita and her work with themes like social justice, the human condition, women, friendship and relationships in her books, as well as a few interesting opening scenes and passages from both their books. This of course resulted in the question being raised of the amount of research that is done. This was something I have always thought about, you can look at books like Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens which obviously has been researched over many years, but then there are others that you just can’t tell whether anything was researched or not. What is classed as research anyway? Studying facts and history to make things correct, or just visiting a certain location to get an insight into where you characters are walking and living. Everything and anything can be research if you want it to be.

Anita raised the question of how important research was in writing. She explained how she does a lot of research, often writing snippets and scenes along the way meaning that when a scene of location is needed later on she has one ready to go. The other thing she does is visit locations where she sets her stories and tries to work out what her characters would do/say if they were there. I found this approach interesting, I’ve always thought about and written scenes based on what I have seen/experienced/imagined, but never really thought about how my characters would interact in said location. I’ve just put the character in the location without really putting them in the location (does that make as much sense as I think it does?).

This of course led to the plotter vs pantser discussion. With Lisa a pantser and Anita a plotter it was a great insight to see how both sides work. For those who don’t know, a plotter is someone who basically writes out an outline and knows exactly what they’re writing about before it is written, a pantser on the other hand is someone who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’, so no plan, no outline, just writing and seeing what happens. These are basic explanations and there would be varying degrees I would assume, I myself am mainly a plotter but have been known to merge into a pantser in some moments.

Anita Heiss

As a self confessed panster, Lisa starts her story with no prior research, just a character and an idea and starts writing from there. She did admit though once a first draft is done, she will return and add in research to make sure her facts are correct and flesh out any sagging scenes. An advantage she mentioned was that it enabled you to add scenes as you wish, only needing to add hints and foreshadowing in earlier scenes if need be. The process of not knowing was one that works well for Lisa, the spontaneity is something that can help develop idea, though it can lead to long drafts and many tangents that may need to be reigned in. Anita on the other side said she does not start unless everything is planned out, and breaks down her story like one would an essay plan. Breaking it down into chapters and looking at what’s the weather? Who are the characters? Where are they going? Then major plot points and dramas can be woven through. The “map it out – research it – write it” approach.

A very interesting turn was when the discussion turned to reviews and whether they get noticed. A wonderful quote from Anita was that she “writes for readers not newspapers”, getting multiple reviews on GoodReads for example was more important than having one being published in a big newspaper.  The question of “who do you write for?” pops up a lot in author talks and I never tire of the answers. Anita said that she writes for herself, kind of, but she also writes for people like her. Having been unable to read stories about herself or anything Aboriginal in a contemporary setting, she set out to write one instead. I’m not sure if this was the quote you were thinking of Anita, and may have credited to Maya Angelo, but Toni Morrison said “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Either that or option 2 is Carol Shields who said, “Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find.”

I liked Lisa’s answer, Lisa writes for herself. After realising you cannot write a book for other people to suit what needs you think they want, she asked herself “what do I like to read?” and started from there. Women overcoming adversity, women like her, women with problems, teenagers, aging parents, infidelity, real life and a hopeful ending. The worst thing, Lisa says, is trying to write “the next big thing” because no one knows what that is going to be so you may as well enjoy writing what you like and not worry.

The other discussion point was about honesty and sparked the discussion not just about honesty in books but honesty as a person. The older we get it seems the more honest we become, especially with friendships. Blow ups are just a “small drop in the bucket of friendship”, this is something I think more people need to remember. The relationships in your 20s, 30s, and 40s are all different and lasting friendships are about more than one fight. As Anita noted, when you are older, your core group of friends are people who don’t judge, and are people you can be honest with and feel safe, where you can disagree but keep the friendship.

There was a whole lot more discussed that was not only excellent advice but allowed a small peek inside the mind of a writer and where inspiration and problems can lie, not just in narrative but ethical and legal matters as well. I won’t go on forever because as much as I’d like to discuss the entire session I won’t, but I will say that there were some wonderful lessons and messages to take from the hour long talk. A few great ones were:

Books are a very gentle way to learn…a safe way [for people] to learn or engage, by themselves.”

We’ve more in common as women than differences. All feel the same thing – it’s not about socio economics it’s about being human beings, about being women. Instead of sitting on the bus looking at someone thinking about differences, think about the sames.”

And one of my favourites, “Write for people to think about how their behaviour impacts other people.”

Even among all the technical writing talk, the entire talk demonstrated just how valuable friendships can be, in fiction and otherwise. There is a lot of power in good friendships and banding women together as one.

I look forward to reading more from these great authors and women and know I have come away with a few more writing lessons and life lessons as a result of my afternoon.

All Your Bits and Pieces Needs
Lisa Heidke website
Lisa Heidke – Upcoming Events
Lisa on Goodreads

Anita Heiss website
Anita Heiss – Upcoming appearances
Anita on Goodreads