Nick Earls blog Q&A’s May 2013
Q1 What’s your typical daily routine?
It now has childcare drop-offs and pick-ups, which I didn’t do previously and I only work four days a week at the moment so that I can spend one weekday with my son. The writing part is still the same though – pick the clothes up off the floor, get dressed, write, run when the time is right, find clean clothes, shave every fifth day. I fit in writing whenever I can since I’m trying to fit more life in now, as well as spending time on the road doing events.
Q2 What are you reading now?
I’ve just started The Son by Philipp Meyer. I think I’m going to love it.
Q3 What influences you most and is your passion? In our last interview, you were involved War Cry.
I’m still involved with War Child. And I still love writing. I’m working on my 19th book and everyone is still a puzzle I need to work out how to solve.
Q4 At Somerset Literary Festival, I attended your Blog and Author Platforms panel. Clearly, you were pushed into the blogging arena. Do you find this helpful in promoting yourself and your books?
To some extent, it’s a good way to connect with the people who read them, but that’s not exactly the same as promoting books. I don’t know how well it does that, but I don’t think anyone’s game to not do it anymore. It’s a good way to connect with people though.
Q5 Do you plan your projects for the year ahead?
I usually have clear plans for 1-2 years ahead and sketchy plans for a couple of years beyond that, at least from the point of view of what I’m planning to write. My ideas are usually about five years ahead of my writing. But I need flexibility in case new opportunities come up, eg, the chance to work on a film adaptation.
Q6 Do you have a stash of writing notes to refer to when you start a new project?
More than a stash. In each case, I have a pile of notes that’s taken a few years to come together, and from that, I put together an outline that’s typically 1/4 of the length of the novel.
Q7 Friends tell me they love to hear you on the radio, do you have a secret longing to be a DJ?
Only if someone else was there to push all the buttons and do all the other hard work. Radio is a great medium to work in, but a whole lot of work goes on to put a show together.
Q8 Zig Zag St is a zany adult book about relationships and how to deal or not deal with breakups, while 48 Shades of Brown is a coming of age story for a younger market. How do you aim to write for a particular market age group?
I end up writing the stories that bug me until I write them out of my system. Some ideas can’t be shaken off, and I figure I should pay attention to that. Then I need to find the right people to inhabit them. Sometimes those people are 16, in Word Hunters, they’re 12, in the book I’m writing now the central character’s 49 – because the details wouldn’t fit with a teenager or someone in their 20s. As much as possible, I do what’s right for the story and then face the marketplace. In the case of Word Hunters, I was prepared to call in some expert editorial help, since it was quite a stretch to write a big time-travel adventure trilogy with 12-year-olds at the heart of it, but it was another challenge to take readers around that age into account and make the end result right for them.
Q9 In a totally different vein (or perhaps not) The Fix is a complex analysis of friendships and how deceptions can be taken the nth degree. Where did this idea spring from?
You’ve described it really well. The first idea involved having a character who sought to lead a private life, but who was thrust into the spotlight (by the siege) and who had unwillingly been there before (because of his father). The second idea was to make that character somewhat elusive by creating another to narrate. The third was complicating their relationship. Several more years of thinking and a screenplay draft followed before I had a clear idea of what the novel should be.
Q10 You write in diverse genres, do you do this to stretch your writing muscles to see just how far you can go?
That’s a big part of it. You might be surprised how rarely that question comes up. The other part is accepting that the only way to clear my head of my more persistent ideas is to write them. But I have a better time if I’m stretching myself a bit – if I’m not cruising.
Q11 Clearly collaboration with Terry Whidborne has been successful as the Word Hunter books delightfully combine the written word and illustrations. How did you meet Terry?
He was the art director on two advertising campaigns I did for Brisbane Marketing in 2002 and 2004. We stayed in contact after that. Then I saw his art, which is brilliant. Then I became aware he was keen to be a book illustrator.
Q12 Where did the concept for the Word Hunters books come from?
It’s one of those ideas I couldn’t shake, even though it was nothing like anything I’d written before. I’ve always found etymology interesting, but there seem to be quite a few experts around and I’m more of an excited amateur. Also, I don’t write non-fiction. So, I wasn’t going to write an etymology book. But then the idea of an adventure story built on etymology occurred to me, and that seemed like new territory and maybe something I could do. I called Terry and he was keen to get on board.
Q13 In the Word Hunters books you give children an insight into the plight of languages being lost to the world. Do you see these books reaching an international market and perhaps encouraging kids to be more aware of language and words?
I’d love it if that happened. The books are only out in Australia and NZ so far, but already it’s great to talk to kids who are suddenly excited about the story of English and really coming to grips with how languages evolve. At a time when change feels really rapid, it’s great to see them getting motivated to take a longer view and get a sense of 1500 years of change. I hope there’s a lot to think about in there, including how crucial literacy is a language, and how fragile some of the things we take for granted might be.
Q14 With the digital age Amazon and a broadening of markets, do you feel you have to be very hands on in your marketing strategies?
I think we’re marketing in more domains than ever, and the new domains all seem to be both global and personal at the same time. It means you might have great reach, but it has to come from – and feel like it’s coming from – the author. Also, publishers are pretty keen to push us there, since it costs them no money and no staff time.
Q15 Travelling and promoting your work as you, are you able to take your family with you?
If I can squeeze a trip into two days, I go by myself and work just about every minute. If it’s likely to be longer than that, I either say No or work out a way to make a family trip of it (and maybe extend it). So far we’ve been to five writer’s festivals together and only been struck by significant illness at four of them.
Q16 Do you make time on your travels to write?
No. Actually, I make time to write down any new ideas, but that’s usually it. If I’m by myself I’ll take some work to do, but not a first draft – emails or edits. I try to clear large tracts of time in my diary to write, then try to hit day one with as few loose ends hanging around as possible.
Q17 You are living a life that many aspiring writers would like to follow. What is your best advice to getting on that track?
Work on both the business side and the writing side. Try to connect with the industry, go to festivals, join major writer’s centres, enter the big competitions and learn what publishers want and how they want it. Then clear your head of all that from time to time, find your voice and your kind of story and write. Once the writing’s ready, feed it into the system you’ve been connecting with, then step back while it’s languishing in an inbox somewhere and turn your mind back to the writing. Expect rejection. The people who make it are the people who can’t stop doing the writing, despite the rejections coming in. Read – that’s important too.
Q18 Finally, without a crystal ball, in the last interview I asked you where you would be in ten years time Do you think you’ve accomplished more than you would have expected since then?
I don’t think so. I think I was probably aiming pretty high ten years ago, though whether or not I owned up to that is a different matter. I’m still writing and still being published, and maybe that’s the main aim. As is typically the way, some things I was hopeful about haven’t happened yet, but I’ve also done some things I never expected to. The Zigzag Street film is still in development – that had only been going for six years when we last spoke and it’s now 16 1/2. I couldn’t have predicted writing Word Hunters. I didn’t predict I’d get so involved with e-books.
I think it’s fair enough to hope for big things any time you publish a book, even if you often end up settling for simply not losing your toehold on the mountain you’re attempting to climb.
Thank you again, Nick, for your candid answers, I’m sure my readers will enjoy seeing how you view the world. I’m very grateful to have met you and to be a fellow Queenslander striving to reach some of the goals you’ve attained.
For more about Nick go to his extremely entertaining and informative blog http://nickearls.wordpress.com/
Today I am delighted to introduce George Ivanoff who modestly describes himself as an author and stay-at-home dad residing in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve recently read his Gamers’ Quest series and as a great fan of YA’s and Scifi loved the books and the involved plot. This is an insightful interview with this techno whiz actor, an author whom I admire greatly. For more about George check out his website. http://georgeivanoff.com.au/about-george/
I first developed an interest in writing during early high school. Our English class spent a whole term doing creative writing… and I discovered that I liked making stuff up.
Q2 How many books have you had published to date?
86 books so far. But don’t get over excited — that’s not 86 novels. 🙂 I do a lot of writing for the education market, which includes school readers and short non-fic books aimed at primary school kids.
Q3 You have a fantastic website. Do you work on it yourself or do you have help?
I look after my own website. I used to work in web development in a past life. I’ve taken a basic WordPress template and made a few modifications. Then my wife, who’s a graphic designer, put together the graphics. http://georgeivanoff.com.au/
Q4 The book trailers are tantalizing, did you go to a professional company to these?
The three Gamers trailers were made by a good friend of mine, Henry Gibbens (http://www.hjgibbens.com/). He’s a vet by day but moonlights as a CGI pixel-pusher. And the music was composed and performed by my brother-in-law, Marc Valko.
My love of acting and writing happened side-by-side, but quite separately. The acting has certainly been useful to my writing career, in that it has made me very comfortable in front of an audience. I do a lot of school visits and library talks, and I’m told I’m quite the ham.
I haven’t been in all that much. I had three lines in Neighbours back in the 1990s. There were some other small parts and voice-overs in a few films and TV shows, as well as larger roles in some short films. I also did several educational training videos. I was never well-known, so I could never be choosy. Back when I was in drama school and pursuing acting more seriously, I would take whatever I could get (good or bad)!
These days I look at writing as my career and acting as an occasional hobby.
Q8 I can tell you are a huge Doctor Who fan, you attended Supernova in Melbourne recently. Do you find attending these kinds of events inspirational as well as promotion for your books?
Yes, I’m a HUGE Doctor Who fan. And I love going along to the expos and conventions. It is more than just promotion. They are a lot of FUN! I’m a regular attendee at Melbourne’s annual Continuum convention (http://continuum.org.au).
Q9 What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading a bunch of old Choose Your Own Adventure books that I bought on eBay.
Q10 Your short stories list on your website covers a diverse range of genres. Do you find writing short stories easier than writing a book?
Not easier, just different. In a novel, you have the time to go into backstory and details of the setting. In a short story, a lot of that has to be implied. A short story will often deal with a specific event/incident, while a novel can look at the bigger picture. So yeah, different rather than easier.
Q11 Clearly you storyboard your books and pre-plan where you are going, I saw your recent Facebook post saying ‘Now I have to write it’. Is the planning stage for you vital? Or, have you ever written a book that just flowed without pre-planning?
Oh yes, planning is important. I’m not the sort of writer who can just sit down and write a story without knowing where it’s going. If I did that, I would risk meandering on endlessly. It’s even more important in the writing of the You Choose books. They are multiple-path, interactive books, where the reader makes choices that influence the outcome of the stories. With multiple story paths that crisscross over each other, I have to plan them carefully. There are 49 paths in The Haunting of Spook House, which I plotted out on a whiteboard. It can be a bit confusing, but it is lots of fun!
Q13 What are your favourite books?
My favourite books over the years have been science fiction, fantasy and adventure based ones. The Tripods trilogy by John Christopher was a much re-read favourite from my teenage years. I loved the old Target Doctor Who books. I collected them and reread them often when I was younger. I still have them all, and I still pull one off the shelf every now and then to enjoy all over again. More recently, I’ve loved Michael Pryor’s Laws of Magic series, Carole Wilkinson’s DragonKeeper series and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy.
John Christopher, Robert A Heinlein (his teen books, not his grown-up ones), Carole Wilkinson, Richard Harland, Terry Dowling, Michael Pryor. These are the ones that jump to mind at the moment, but there are many others.
Q15 You write reviews of DVD’s and books, again listed on your website and many published. Do you find every area is an opportunity to be published? (I say this because I love reading and reviewing books and have rarely been paid to do this.)
There are all sorts of writing/publishing opportunities out there. And it’s not always about the money. I don’t get paid for writing DVD reviews, but these reviews are published on my website. They bring new readers to my website and they are fun to write — I enjoy inflicting my biased opinions on unsuspecting readers. 🙂
I also occasionally write for other publications without being paid. I’ve written essays about Doctor Who and Star Trek for a number of pop culture books, such as Doctor Who and Race (Intellect Books, 2013) and Outside In (ATB Publishing, 2012). And with each of these books, royalties have gone to charity rather than the authors/editors.
Q16 What is your favourite genre to write in?
Q17 Do you write with a visual image in mind?
Yes. I need to have a clear image in my mind in order to write about it. So I will sometimes draw pictures in my note books to help me with that — particularly maps. I need to draw maps so I can clearly picture the locations that I’m using in my stories. Of course, this is all hampered somewhat by my rather poor drawing skills. But I am comforted by the fact that no one will ever have to see my drawings!
I’m working on the next two books in the You Choose series. Book 5 (Night of the Creepy Carnival) is currently in the editing stage. And I’m in the plotting stage for Book 6 (working title: Alien Invasion from Beyond the Stars). I’m having a lot of fun with these two.
For more about George check out his website. http://georgeivanoff.com.au/about-george/