My book group was extremely fortunate to have a special guest along last week – Carrie Tiffany, author of the newly released Mateship With Birds as well as Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living.
I wish I could have made notes! Carrie shared all sorts of insights into her latest book as well as her writing process. Here’s a little of what she talked about (excuse the lazy bullet points!) –
- Carrie doesn’t write her stories from beginning to end. Instead, she works on sentences and scenes. When she has enough of these, she clears a space on her lounge room floor, lays out all her pages and looks for order. Interestingly, I came across a post on another blog a few days ago that explores this approach to writing (the blogger likened it to movie storyboards).
- When she’s writing, Carrie says to her kids “I’m working on my sentences” (as opposed to “I’m working on my novel”). Isn’t that lovely?
- And indeed she is working on her sentences. She writes and rewrites until she feels it is perfect and then moves on to the next sentence.
- Sometimes your writing stalls when you need to know a fact. Like many people, I stop writing and find out what I need to know (thank goodness for the internet!). Carrie does the reverse. When she began Mateship With Birds, she spent many, many hours in the State Library reading years worth of farming journals, regional newspapers and women’s magazines from the period, all the while making note of anything that seemed interesting. Then, as she was writing, snippets of this information found their way into the story – whether that be the teat salve farmer’s were using in the 1950s or the name of the local pub.
Publications for Australia versus those for other countries
- What works in one country (in terms of title and book cover) doesn’t necessarily work in another. Carrie experienced this when her first novel was published – the Australian market saw a simple, rusty-red ‘weathered’ book jacket whereas in the UK, the book was published with a cover showing a cross-stitched design. In addition, the title of her first book was originally ‘The Cultivator’ – the publisher in the UK wanted Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living and so that stuck.
- Mateship for Birds will have a different cover in the UK, featuring two kookaburras silhouetted against a full moon. There was a suggestion of a title change (to ‘The Winking Owl’ but this did not eventuate – thank goodness – the kookaburras deserve the top billing!).
- According to the UK publisher, the term ‘mateship’ only has meaning and relevance in Australia. The UK publication of Mateship With Birds includes a definition of ‘mateship’ on the jacket.
- Is Mateship with Birds too ‘much’ for the US? Time will tell. It seems the scene where Mues exposes himself to Little Hazel at the beginning of the book won’t suit the US market (but the scene with the sheep at the end is ok – go figure!)
- My book group all loved Little Hazel’s nature diary and in particular, how it provided another narrative alongside what was happening with the kookaburra family and what was happening in the lives of the characters. Carrie’s editor originally had Little Hazel’s diary on the chopping block – I’m so glad that didn’t happen.
- Don’t give your book to an agent/editor until it is the very best it can be. Rewrite a hundred times if needed but once you hand it over, know that it’s your best work. Editors aren’t interested in suggesting ‘improvements’ to either style or storyline.
What’s next? There’s another book in the pipeline. Perhaps set in the seventies. I can’t wait.