Our feature blog belongs to Children's and YA author, Paul Collins.
Tell us about your path to publication. When/where were you when your first book was accepted? Did you have many attempts at publication before you were successful?
I started out as a sixteen-year-old writing very dodgy western novels, despite not being a reader! I self-published one of these novels when I was twenty, then decided I liked the publishing aspect more than writing, so I started a magazine called Void which had, for a time, national distribution via Gordon & Gotch. I moved into publishing novels, publishing Australia’s first epic fantasy novels, long before the major publishers started their fantasy lines. Sadly, I met some shady distributors. The last one disappeared with my stock plus owing me money. I shifted back into writing and sold my first fantasy novel to HarperCollins in 1995. During the next fifteen years I went on to write over 130 books. In 2007 I went back to publishing children’s novels. I made this move basically because the only thing that stopped my publishing activities in the first place was lack of distribution. When Macmillan said they’d distribute books if I published them, I jumped at the offer.
When do you write? Do you have any rituals you follow e.g write notes first. Do you listen to music while you write & if so what?
I write whenever I have the time, which is decreasing as time goes on. I did manage to finish one novel recently that I’ve had on the back-burner since 2007 – and that’s Mole Hunt, Book One in The Maximus Black Files. That will be released in June. No, I don’t listen to music when I write. I prefer complete silence. This state of mind is helped by living in a dead-end street off a dead-end street. The only interruption I get currently is the new neighbours’ kids and the basketball hoop they’ve set up. Hopefully they’ll grow out of it soon lol.
Are you a member of a critique group or writers centre?
No. I did teach SF/F at the Victorian Writers’ Centre in 2010. Although it was only for five days, it did take up an inordinate amount of time.
What does your average day (or week) involve?
Being a writer and publisher is all time-consuming. As an independent publisher, I basically take on all the roles that major publishers have staff for. So: editing, proofreading, accounts, marketing/publicity, answering phones, reading unsolicited material, social media, etc. (It would be remiss of me not to mention I have interns that help with all this!) I also go into schools to give workshops and talks to kids. I’ve been a guest at several festivals, too, like the MWF, BWF, Voices on the Coast, Somerset, Ipswich and All Saints (WA). My latest idea is to run a speakers’ agency. It’s called Creative Net, and I book, for free, authors and illustrators around the country. I represent roughly 50 authors and illustrators. Jumble all that up with the occasional few stolen moments to write, and there you have my average week. I have two beautiful dogs to distract me, though. They’re my exercise, too. Can’t beat a kelpie and a heeler!
What was your career path before you became a published author?
My father despaired for me. Between the age of 15 when I left school and 18 when I left home for good, I had about eight jobs. That was back in the days when jobs were plentiful. I worked in an electroplating factory, a luggage company (apprentice clicker, making bags), on a farm, another factory spot-welding air-conditioners, Ford Motor Company on the assembly line, on a construction site as a builder’s labourer. At age 17 I was a despatch manager for Metro Goldwyn Meyer. I also worked in two cinemas as an apprentice projectionist.
What do you love most about most about being an author?
Working for myself, I suspect, comes pretty high up the list. It’s also hard to believe that you get paid for doing something you enjoy doing. I make my own hours, and know that the harder I work, the better it is for me. I can’t say I grew up loving books, but my house didn’t have a book in it – none of my family read. I did love reading comics, though. I devoured quite a few series from Marvel, like Captain America and The Hulk. People often tell me my writing style is filmic, so I guess that’s what influenced me.
Tell us about your latest book.
The Glasshouse is a picture book illustrated by the fabulous Jo Thompson. I awarded her first prize in the CYA Art Competition in 2009. Clara lives in a perfect world and has little thought for people outside of her glasshouse. Then she meets a boy who gives her a few home truths about life. She refuses to listen, because she’s so blind to other people’s problems. Finally, the boy’s thoughts worry her, and she become paranoid and wary of outside influences. She loses the adulation people have been heaping upon her, and finally winds up with the boy, realising no one is perfect. It was written from my experience with someone very much like Clara. I was the boy who told her a few truths she didn’t want to hear.
Have you found that using a blog/website helps to connect with your fans? How regularly is it updated?
Fans you say?! lol I spend a little time on social media, and certainly respond to the occasional email I receive from people who have read my books. But no, I don’t have a blog. I seriously find little time to keep my website up-to-date. This is exacerbated by the fact I have a web designer maintaining it. So it’s not as though I can log in as an administrator and update at will. The Ford Street website is different in as much it was created in Joomla, and I’ve been made an administrator. I can therefore update it any time I like.
Do you think having a website/blog is an important tool for an author?
Definitely. I’ve tried to convince Isobelle Carmody to get a website but I’ve had no luck so far. Maybe we should start a campaign, or create a facebook page to change her mind! Other Ford Street authors don’t have a website, either. As with Isobelle, I do try to convince them of a website’s merits.
Are you a planner/plotter or a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type writer?
I’m pretty much a fly-by-your-seat writer. I did plot out the Quentaris books, of which I wrote seven. But other books are mostly written off the cuff. For example, I didn’t know where The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler was going to wind up. Conversely, I knew exactly where The Glasshouse was heading, because that was a metaphor, and was written from personal experience. My June title, Mole Hunt, is a dystopian space opera/SF. I needed to plot a bit of that, because that’s book one of a trilogy. I don’t think you can write series without doing a bit of plotting.
What blogs or websites do you visit regularly?
I have to confess I don’t really visit blogs or websites. I do if Ford Street’s books are reviewed. And I’ve visited Foz Meadows’ blog several times, because I see it mentioned every now and then. I also visit Dee White’s blog at http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/kids-book-capers-blog and George Ivanoff’s at http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/random-stuff/2010/10 But generally, one can fit only so much into a day.
What’s the most important tip you would give to new writers?
Persistence. I hate to admit it, but most of my books share something with the first Harry Potter book. They get rejected. A typical case is my YA novel, The Earthborn, book one in The Earthborn Wars. Just about every publisher in Australia rejected it. I gave it to an American agent as a last resort. The first publisher she sent it to was US giant, Tor. The trilogy has been published now. I could have easily given up on that book – I wrote the first draft in the 80s. It took several re-writes and some 15 years, but it finally made it. That series was my major move into the US market. I mentioned The Glasshouse before. That too was rejected by most of the major Australian publishers. It’s now sold 5000 copies (well above average for Australia) and been chosen by IBBY as one of their 50 Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. Only four Australian books made that International list. It will be launched at the Bologna Book Fair and be on permanent exhibition in Norway. Again, if I hadn’t been persistent, I could have easily stuck the manuscript in the bottom drawer, thinking it wasn’t publishable. New writers need to believe in themselves, and never, ever give up.
What can we expect next?
After Mole Hunt, I suspect I’ll need to find time to work on book two, which is called Dyson’s Drop. That won’t appear till 2012, though. And only then if I get it written. I have the first draft written, so I think I’ll make that deadline.
Do you have any ‘need to read’ book recommendations? What are your all-time favourite books?
If you mean of other authors, I’d suggest the Artemis Fowl books, plus the Mortal Engines series. His Dark Materials series is good, too, although slightly heavier than Artemis and Mortal.
Anything else you want to tell us?
Phew. I think you’ve just about got it all! Thanks for taking time out to talk to me.
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