Cristy Burne

Author, editor, science writer


2 Comments

A new book! A new publisher! A new agent!

hoorayA new book!

I’m incredibly thrilled to announce that I have a new book coming out next year with the amazing Fremantle Press, edited by the fabulous Cate Sutherland!!!!
(YAY! Dancing hippy happy hornpipes allowed and encouraged.)

It’s an adventurous book for young readers, a story of friendship and trust, danger and doing, set on Western Australia’s iconic Rottnest Island.

I love this story because it’s also about taking risks. It’s about encouraging our children to play outside, to explore their limits, to discover what’s really important to them.

In yesterday’s paper there was a quote from Claire Warden of the International Association of Nature Pedagogy that really stood out for me, and it resonates with this book:

“If you don’t have any physical risk, there is greater emotional risk…If you’re scared of your own shadow, you don’t try new things, and you don’t have that inner emotional resilience to push yourself in any way.”

So get out there! Do something that scares you every day! (This has been my motto for years; it’s even a scary motto!)

A new publisher!

I’m honoured and excited to be sailing with the Fremantle Press crew. They’re fantastic. They publish great Western Australian stories, they take risks with the stories they publish, and they’ve been doing it for 40 years! The authors they represent are lovely too 🙂

Want to help share the love? You can be part of Fremantle Press’ birthday celebrations by joining the party on Wednesday November 2. fremantlepress_40year_oct2016

A new agent!

I’ve also just signed with Danielle Binks, agent-at-large with the Jacinta Di Mase agency. More hippy, happy hornpipes! They’re both super-well-respected in the industry and I’m looking forward to working with them on some exciting new projects, especially in children’s non-fiction. Yay!


2 Comments

The new Publishing: tips and advice from the Australian Society of Authors

what-do-you-mean-no-champagneThe business of writing is changing. Our publishing cheese is on the move. In fact, it may no longer be in the building.

So what to do? WritingWA invited Juliet Rogers—publishing guru and Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors—to chat about why publishing is no longer all free lunches and champagne.

Scroll down for Juliet’s tips on getting published.

 

The business end of business

In Australia, the business of writing means we publish 7000 new Aussie books every year (and another 14000 titles from overseas), turning over 2 billion dollars and employing 20,000 people.

“We’re the sector that underpins the cultural identity of this country,” Juliet says.

“We’ve built a book ecosystem in this country which is largely self-sustaining, but there’s still a place for government support, and this is largely absent.”

In fact, she says, the industry’s currently under attack as the Productivity Commission moves to reduce the length of copyright for creators and FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) continue their push to “make free content cool and copyright old-fashioned.”

Sign the ASA’s petition here to help protect Australia’s book industry, and with it, the diversity of stories our children will be able to read.
rogers_juliet

Juliet Rogers of the Australian Society of Authors

Are we artists? Or entrepreneurs? Or both?

“We need to get better at separating the business of writing from the craft of writing, while understanding the importance of both,” Juliet says.

“As an industry we’ve been slow, we’ve clung to the old rules for too long and have had to scramble to keep up.”

We can now choose ebooks instead of print-and-petrol product. We can have the internet as a distributor, and social media as a publicity department.

However, says Juliet, the fundamentals remain the same:

“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton

Anyone can be a writer

Anyone can make a book, and many do. This, I think, should be viewed as an asset to the industry, not a liability. Yet it does raise challenges.

Of Australia’s 3800 publishers, 60% have published just a single book. In fact, more than 70% of titles are published by only 3% of publishers, Juliet says.

“Writers no longer dream of winning Lotto; they dream of writing a title that goes viral,” she says. (Hands up if you can relate to this)(You’ve got to have a dream, right?)

Whether you’re writing, editing, self-publishing or searching for an agent or publisher, Juliet has some choice words of advice:

Juliet Rogers’ tips for getting published

Write a great book. “Your words have to be great words. They have to say something interesting or good or beautiful; most of all they have to stand out from the crowd…. Have you truly written something worth publishing? You need to be confident that it’s good enough for people you have never met to put their hands in their pockets and buy it.”

Beware ‘almost-there’. “The really good books, they stand out. You know you will move heaven and earth to publish that book. The sad ones are the ones that are nearly there. Almost there. In a tough market like this, almost isn’t going to get you there.”

Beware fraudsters and charlatans. The fake agents. The vanity publishers. The dodgy manuscript assessors who love your work but mostly love your chequebook. “When they hear, ‘we want to publish your book,’ perfectly intelligent, rational and perceptive human beings rush to sign contracts that are nothing less than criminal,” says Juliet. The answer, at least in part, is to get the ASA to check your contract before you sign.

Slow down. So, you have a publishing offer? It’s business time! “Let the excitement of imminent publication settle, and before you make any commitment, look for the red flags.” Is their website badly written? Do they make ridiculous promises without evidence or detail? “Let your head rule, not your heart. It’s not the time for emotion and passion and enthusiasm. Do you really want these people making your book?”

Read, read, read. “Read as widely as you can across your chosen genre. If you don’t understand the genre, you’re not going to succeed at it.”

Practise, practise, practise.Your first attempt is unlikely to win the Miles Franklin, but the more you write, the better you’ll become. Be prepared to listen to feedback. Learn when to take notice, and when to stand your ground.”

 “Self-publishing a shitty book doesn’t make you an author any more than singing in the shower makes you a rock star” Oliver Markus

Last words from Juliet

On diversity in publishing:There are many voices in this country that aren’t being heard in the way that they should be. I’m not entirely with Lionel, I have to say.  There’s a lot of work to be done.”

On globalisation in publishing: “The more corporatised you become, the less likely it is that you will take risks. That’s why there a lot of little companies starting up, and some are doing some interesting things.” See Text, Black Ink, Henry Scribe….

On rejection: Vodka is only a short term answer. This is a time for ruthless self-honesty. It may be that although you love writing, you simply don’t have the skill to be a published author.”

On getting published: “It is still possible. You don’t need to have won prizes, you don’t need awards. You don’t need any paraphernalia. You need a book that knocks you over.”

Now go write! The future is bright.

“New technology has begun to shift and equalise the balance of power for authors, because knowledge is power,” says Juliet.

“Great books will continue to be written, and great books will continue to be read. The future looks a pretty exciting place to me.” Juliet Rogers

“The business of writing is never easy, but there is always demand for good writing,” Juliet says.

“Wherever technology takes us, we’ll always need writers.

“Writers help us honour the past, record the present and shape the future.”

Pretty great, huh? It was an awesome night. Thanks so much to WritingWA for organising!

 

 


4 Comments

2015: Finish your book or eat grilled crickets

Cristy Burne eating grilled cricket

Mmmm. Eating grilled cricket at Scitech. Tastes like toast.

You read it here first:

This year I am finally going to finish that book. You know. The one I’ve been writing for THREE YEARS!!

It should never have taken this long. I have all the excuses, and it has been a fabulous learning journey, but at the end of the year day, it’s time to put the thing to bed.

This year is the year.

I hereby swear and promise: if I don’t finish writing (and editing!) my book this year, I’m going to eat a grilled cricket. Make that two grilled crickets.

Oh, that’s right. I’ve already eaten two grilled crickets. (All in a day’s work.)

But seriously. This year is the year.

So, enough of this post. I’m off writing!
And enough reading of this post: be off with you too. Go and do something you desperately want to do.

Happy New Year people!


Leave a comment

Another reason I love science: blood, guts and fine dining in Tokyo’s themed bar

Ever feel like the night life in your city just isn’t cutting it?

Check out my review of Alcatraz+ER, a science-themed Tokyo pub, originally published in Cosmos magazine. I dare you to read it and not secretly wish you could be there. I still have nightmares…

Alcatraz science barPub crawl – Alcatraz meets E.R.
Ever felt it might be easier to ingest your drinks by drip? Maybe you’d prefer alcohol in a capsure? By test-tube? Perhaps a giant syringe is more to your liking? Or you might skip all these niceties and drink straight from the beer bedpan. The only hard-to-find drinking vessel at Alcatraz+ER is a glass.

One of Tokyo’s kookiest and most fashionable bars, Alcatraz+ER is a mish-mash of emergency room, prison and morgue. Just the place for fine dining and a cold one, especially if you don’t mind sharing your space with preserved body parts, blood spatters and X-rays (spot the axe).

Looking from the street you’d never know. But step out of the lift on the second floor of this nondescript building, and things quickly become a little disconcerting.

For a start, there are no people. No reception. Not even any noise. The silent walls are decorated with mugshots and chemistry equipment. At the far end of the otherwise empty room is a barred cabinet holding four buttons: “Press your blood type,” the sign commands. For those who reach through the rusty bars to hit a button, there’s no turning back.

The doors that slide open reveal a cacophony of shrieks, clangings, techno music and reruns of Silence of the Lambs. A nurse in a miniskirt appears with handcuffs and a giant syringe. She cuffs you, then leads you through a maze of dimly lit corridors (the giant floors of which occasionally reveal buried bodies) to the table of your choice.

Less adventurous diners may choose to be locked in a concrete cell and fed through iron bars at a stainless-steel table. Braver punters, unphased by bloodstains and second-hand surgical instruments, can opt to dine in a dimly lit operating theatre. On a first date? Skip those awkward moments when you’re alone as a couple by sharing a cell-for-three with a hunchback or a bloodied mummy.

And just as you start to feel comfortable using tweezers to select tasty morsels from a preserving jar, or sipping from the pot marked ‘Biohazard,’ there’s a blood-curdling scream closely followed by sirens. The place goes pitch black.

If you’re lucky, an ultraviolet glow will light the chaos before the escaped lunatic murderer finds your cell. Wearing striped prison garb with hurricane hair, he sprints through the corridors in an attempt to evade the armed guards who will eventually wrestle him to the floor. Sedation with a giant hypodermic quickly follows, he’s led away, and you’re free to get on with your drinks. Tokyo sure knows how to party.


Leave a comment

Laurie Oakes on political journalism in the digital age

town-crier

WIll they still need us? Will they still feed us?

Will they still need us? Will they still feed us?

Laurie Oakes spoke tonight at Curtin University on political journalism in the digital age. It was terrific.

I’ve never identified as a journalist (I’m a writer), so I don’t suffer from the same issues that besiege modern journalists, but I can look around and see the world is changing, and the job of a professional writer with it.

DIY political journalism

Politicians with a story to tell need no longer rely on town criers, carrier pigeons or traditional media.

Oakes pointed to the White House and its 20-something-strong team of PR people, all cranking out material freely available on social networks and picked up by mainstream media to fill the gaps between ads.

The middle-man, otherwise known as the journalist, no longer needs to worry about getting quotes right or finding a suitable photo: politicians are providing the world with their own quotes, photos, videos, tweets, and (new to me as well) 5-second Vine videos.

The stories they don’t want told

To survive, says Oakes, journalists need to find the stories politician’s don’t want told. This relies on cultivating sources, but who wants to be a source when your phones can be tapped, your emails hacked, your credit card records seized, your phone’s GPS tracked… Anyone? Anyone?

The fight with Big Brother, says Oakes, can partially be won by combining studies in journalism with computer science, so our journos are tech-savvy and practice good IT hygiene. “Computers and journalism are fused now,” he says. “You’ll never prise them apart.”

Oakes’ 6-point “listicle”: Reasons for optimism

Despite the challenges, Oakes was optimistic: “Journalism is coming back, or will come back…Every time there’s a change, it increases your ability to tell stories.”

So why the optimism? Well, here’s his 6-point “listicle”:

1) Newspapers are still with us. As far as reasons for optimism go, this is right up there alongside Today I didn’t get hit by a truck. And yet, it is true. Newspapers have proven to be more resilient than expected, Oakes says, and are adapting to the “uber platform” and finding new ways to finance journalists at the same time.

2) Quality journalism is still being produced. Despite reduced ad revenue, reduced circulation and reduced employment opportunities, Oakes believes great stories are still being told and great truths unearthed.

3) Paywalls are working. The reader-pays system of providing online content has been slow to take off, says Oakes, but has seen “encouraging results.” And paywalls encourage quality: “If you want to see something, it has to be worth buying.”

4) Quality is winning the quantity war. Outlets are financing quality journalism thanks to “rubbish that makes money on the net.” The old she’ll-be-right slap-something-together attitude to online publishing is no longer cutting it.

5) Stories need to be told, by someone. You can leak all the documents you like, but unless somebody takes that information and sifts through it to give it meaning, your story won’t really be heard. Journalists, says Oakes, are still relevant.

6) We have new storytelling tools galore. Real-time videos, live translation apps, phones that edit and record and tapdance (okay, not that last one), and the ability to broadcast from anywhere, anytime. “It’s almost enough to make an old hack wish he was just starting out,” says Oakes. “I’m in awe of what can be done now in storytelling.”

And as well as provoking thought on journalism, democracy, and privacy, Oakes provoked some thoughts I rather wish I hadn’t had: apparently Kevin Rudd paid his way through uni cleaning houses, including Oakes’ place, and “he was pretty good on the s-bend,” he jokes.

But jokes aside, I agree with Oakes: it’s a wild and crazy time to be a journalist. And sometimes, the most amazing things rise out of wild-and-crazy times.

The climate is right for bold, IT-savvy journos to really make a different to the way we see the world. So go forth, meet sources in lake-edge car parks at midnight, and don’t forget to leave your phones behind. I say, good luck to you!

Image credit: Bryan Ledgard


2 Comments

Writing without editing

Takeshita Demons discoveryI’m starting a new experimental writing project.

Usually a new writing project means I’m full of enthusiasm and excitement, but the “experimental” part of this project means I’m trying to write fiction for ages 6-8,  an age group and style I’m not experienced with, am not especially well read in, and that doesn’t really suit my natural voice.

Some call it torture, I call it practice.

Writing in a foreign style means the writing hurts. I’m having to embrace the “am I any good at this? am I just wasting my time?” phase of being a writer. And BTW, I hate that phase.

So, why am I doing it?

Because I’m writing another practice novel. Recently, every time I write, it’s for publication. So this is permission to sit down, shut up and just write for a change.

Writing for children aged 6 to 8 means a short book: I’m thinking ten chapters, maybe 7000 words all-up. This is a very achievable goal.  It’s also a reasonable amount of work to do and then desert. I don’t expect this book to be publishable. I certainly don’t expect this book to be read.

I just want to see what happens.

What happens if I forcefully shut up my inner critic and write a mini chapter per writing day? What happens if I forge a story out of words without worrying about how well those words sound (or unwell, as the case may be).

I have a vague idea of what should happen in each chapter, so my plan is to just make those things happen and forget about the rest. I don’t have a voice for the book, I don’t really even have much of a character.

Both of these things are absolutely essential for a marketable, commercially viable early reader.

So what? Maybe, just maybe, these things will develop as I write, and I can go back and edit the first draft. Maybe, nothing will develop but a sense of pride that I have finished a draft, given something new a shot, and can now move back to my comfort zone: lovely, funny, quirky middle grade (sigh :-))

I’m afraid I’m writing a PILE OF RUBBISH.

But I’m writing it anyway.

xx


Leave a comment

6 top tips: Preparing for the NAPLAN narrative writing test

Very soon, around the country, tens of thousands of primary school students will be sitting down to write creative stories for half-an-hour. How cool is that!?!

Rapid writing in action

Writing workshops: we demonstrate rapid writing in action

For a moment, let’s put aside all discussion about NAPLAN and tests and examination stress, and look instead at HOW FABULOUS it is to give kids this opportunity.

Half-an-hour to write a story!

And the stories can be about ANYTHING! Monsters or zombies or magic or football or flying or horseriding or whatever. Even better, the NAPLAN marking key rewards kids for being imaginative and for writing in their own voice. I’m telling you: if ever there was a chance for the ordinary kid to shine, this is it. Narrative writing is just story-telling, and kids love telling stories.

47 marks, and less than half of them for grammar

I understand that not every child has perfect spelling or fabulous grammar or a terrific command of punctuation!!!! But spelling, grammar and punctuation represent less than half of the marks available.

NAPLAN-narrative-writing-marking-key-2010

NAPLAN narrative writing marking key 2010

So, here’s my thing: Even a kid with an awful command of the English language can have a terrific imagination and can tell an emotionally engaging or funny or scary story. And there are boggins of NAPLAN marks available for that. Five marks for good ideas. Four marks for a well-sketched character or setting. Four marks for using conflict to structure your story and ramp it up. These marks can make the difference. But let’s forget about marks for a moment.

Let’s look at the bigger stumbling block:

Question: What stops kids with rotten spelling/grammar from writing terrific stories?

Answer: Fear of getting it wrong.

So here comes my first — and most important — tip for preparing primary school kids to do well in the NAPLAN narrative writing test:

Tip #1: Rapid writing, every day

This is it. Write. Kids who hate writing will hate the NAPLAN test unless they lose their fear of writing. So make them write, every day, for ten silent minutes. They’re allowed to write anything. They don’t have to show anyone or share their stories. They don’t get checked for spelling or grammar. They just have to write, without stopping, without editing, without getting stuck for an idea, and for ten minutes. I call this technique Rapid Writing and I use it in all my workshops. I’ve seen it work wonders in primary school classes where it’s used regularly.

“But Miss…I don’t have an idea.”

So write about how it sucks to have no ideas to write about, and how you wish you could be playing football instead of writing. And keep writing. For ten minutes.

“But I still don’t know what to write about…”

Then write “I wish I had a great idea to write about. How cool would it be if I could ride on dragons and eat lollipops instead of having to sit here and write.” And keep writing. For ten minutes.

Tip #2: Make your characters BIG!

NAPLAN sets aside a massive nine points for ideas and character/setting. This is because ideas and characters/setting are what stick with us most when we read a story. We don’t want to read about Bob who woke up and went to school and then came home and ate afternoon tea and then woke up and it was all a dream.

We want to read about Ivan the Terrible who has a bright red beard that hangs down to his knees, and Phoebe Friday who only eats passionfruit for breakfast, lunch and tea, and William Frederick II who last bathed in August because he’s deathly afraid of ducks and can’t stand the smell of his mother’s favourite soap. We want a COLOURFUL character who ACTS in ways we wish we could act, who SAYS THINGS we wish we had the courage to say, who is BRAVE when the rest of us would be cowering in our clodhoppers.

Tip #3: Make the reader feel sorry for your character

The fastest way to encourage a reader to feel for and engage with your character is to do something terribly unfair to your character in the first few lines. James and the Giant Peach begins with James’ parents being run down by an escaped rhino. Terribly unfair. Harry Potter lives under the stairs with his beastly relations. Terribly unfair. Even Cat in the Hat begins with a day so rainy the kids are trapped inside and can’t play. Terribly unfair.

Tip #4: Show us how your character feels

NAPLAN rewards stories that are emotionally engaging. A great way to engage a reader is to show how your character is feeling during the story. During the story, include a line or two that describes how your character feels about what is happening to them. Write about what they imagine might happen, or what they’re afraid of, or how they’re so hungry they’re thinking of eating a slug, or how they’re so sad they want to cry but won’t let the bully see their tears, or how they’re so happy they’re jumping up and down like a kangaroo on a pogo stick. Show us how your character feels.

Tip #5: Make bad stuff happen

If your character desperately wants to win a race, make them twist their ankle and trip over a dog and stop for a slow-moving train. If your character wants to be left alone, give them a surprise party. If your character needs to chase a bank robber across a bridge, make the bridge incredibly high and your character horribly afraid of heights. Whatever your character lives for, thwart it.

Tip #6: Don’t take it too seriously

Just write. Forget it’s a test and just tell a story, the kind of story you’d love to listen to. And if you run out of time, don’t write AND IT WAS ALL A DREAM. Instead, go for the cliffhanger: leave the character in EVEN DEEPER TROUBLE AND WITH NO WAY OUT…. And know you’ve done a very fine job.

So that’s it.

I hope you can use these ideas to make a difference for your writing and for your students. Every child deserves to be able to sit down at NAPLAN time and crank out a story they have invented from their own brain and feel happy about it. There’s nothing cooler than inventing a great story 🙂

Good luck and happy writing! And please let me know if these tips help 🙂

Want more?

I can run narrative writing workshops and incursions with your students, to help put these ideas into practice. For more information or to tailor a workshop, please drop me a line.