The Longhand Experiment

Writing is hard, per my frequent reprise. Sometimes it helps to mix up the process.

I do most of my writing on the desktop PC in my study. Picture me there with headphones blocking out everything but a playlist of 70’s and 80’s college rock, a neglected mug of tea close at hand and the keyboard cheerfully clattering away for a few seconds at a time before another eleven minute pause for thought.

One problem with this arrangement is that I have ready access to the internet, which accounts for many of those eleven minute pauses (and then some). As the Facebook meme goes, “Writing is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet”. I fall short of that implied standard a lot.

The bigger problem is what to do when I find myself with writing time when I’m away from home. When I was on holidays I carried my iPad with me and wrote in the Notes app. I found it a productive approach when I had predictable writing time but I’m less keen to carry a tablet with me for everyday use.

My notebook pages do not look like this

So I went old school. I’m writing a story in longhand. At first I had a dedicated notebook, but after I filled it up I started using the back half of my journal. The story is now spread across three separate books. Here’s a thing: I have no idea how long the story is. The longer I write it, the more the story expands – and I’ve been writing it for more than two years now.

(For reference, this is the story I’ve codenamed Chrysanthemum. It’s a fantasy story, loosely mashing together a murder mystery with unionising monsters in a quasi-Chinese setting. It started with a single idea of a magistrate investigating an inn in a notorious mountain pass and has broadened into politics, family drama and a strange buddy cop romance. With monsters.)

Chrysanthemum: much easier to look at than type or say.

Without a doubt, the method has affected the content.

When I work on Chrysanthemum, I usually only have ten or twenty minutes to spare. I tend to write it in bursts of between one to four pages, which means anything from two to seven hundred words in a session. I rarely read back more than a page, unless I need to check a character name. And I wrote down the ending I had in mind, but I lost the piece of paper more than a year ago, so I only vaguely know where I’m going. Other than that there’s no plan.

I think I will finish the first draft in the next few days. Will it feel like I’m reading someone else’s story? Probably – and I’m not sure I’ll be very kind to it. My expectations about what I will find are:

  • Repetition of core concepts like the protagonist’s beliefs and some of the setting details. The disjointed writing method means that in order to orient myself in the work, I frequently reiterate the story elements of which I am certain.
  • Bloated writing: whether it’s sprawling action scenes with loving descriptions of skull fractures, long passages of introspective self-doubt, expositional world building, or tedious philosophical arguments I haven’t bothered to think through beforehand, I suspect there’s a lot of fluff I need to edit out.
  • Continuity errors: I know I gave my key antagonist a name at some point, but I don’t remember it and mostly I’ve referred to him by his relationship with another character. Likewise, I am pretty sure that my descriptions of the physical setting, the characters and the legal code that sits behind some of the politics will all prove wildly inconsistent if not contradictory.

The next challenge will be getting it all into an editable form. It’s not feasible to edit the story across three books, even if I had left enough space at the margins for notes. (I didn’t). The thought of transcribing what is likely a more than ten thousand word piece is daunting. I may take the opportunity to experiment with dictation software, though from what I’ve heard, attempts to get accurate voice-to-text translations of fantasy terms is an uphill battle.

It’s been an interesting experiment. I don’t know whether what I’ll have at the end of all that work is a coherent story, or a satisfying one. I don’t know how long it is. I don’t know if the characters work, or if the world makes any sense. I don’t know if I can face typing the word Chrysanthemum ever again.

It’s kind of exciting.

My apologies to regular readers for the lack of updates in March.
My April newsletter will contain the final part of Orphans’ Moon,
which you can read by signing up here:

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Ditmar Awards open for nominations

It’s awards season!

The 2017 Australian SF Awards, aka the Ditmars, are open for nominations until midnight on the 19th of March 2017. Any eligible person – being anyone active in Australian SF, fantasy and/or horror fandom, or a member of the Natcon (Continuum 13) – can nominate works to appear on the shortlist in a range of categories. The winners will be voted on by members of the current or previous national SF convention.

(The rules are here, if you’re curious about whether you are eligible to nominate).

Works published in 2016 by an Australian author or artist are eligible to be nominated. I encourage anyone who qualifies as active in Australian fandom – the bar to entry is pretty low – to grab a copy of the online nomination form and submit their favourite works from last year.

If your memory is anything like mine, you won’t remember three-quarters of what you read last year, so luckily there is a handy list of (possibly) every work of fiction and piece of art eligible to be nominated: 2017 Ditmar eligibility list.

I won’t blow my own trumpet, except to note that stories of mine do appear on the list. What I will mention are some of the stories I read from last year I’d recommend:

Best Novel: The one qualifying novel I read was The Sleeping Life by Andrea K Host, but I also bought An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows, The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren, Squid’s Grief by D K Mok and Vigil by Angela Slatter in my to-read pile. If I read faster I might have a bigger range of choices.

Best Novella: I commend to your attention ‘A Strange Loop’ by T R Napper, ‘Forfeit’ by Andrea K Host, and ‘Unmagical Boy Story’ by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Can’t go wrong with any of those.

Best Short Story: There’s far too many to choose from but ‘A Strong Urge to Fly’ by Alan Baxter, ‘Breathing’ by Leife Shallcross, ‘Lust, Entrapment, and the Matter Transmitter: a Case Study’ by Sean Williams, ‘Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart’ by Samantha Murray, ‘Street Furniture’ by Jo Anderton, ‘The Baby Eaters’ by Ian McHugh, ‘The Doll Beautician’ by Kaaron Warren, ‘The Leaves No Longer Fall’ by Jodi Cleghorn, ‘The Planetary Survey’ by Tom Dullemond, and ‘Two Somebodies Go Hunting’ by Rivqa Rafael are all very good stories.

I’ll leave the other categories as an exercise for the reader – though I note that my mate Tim Napper is eligible for Best New Talent and he is a talented sonuvabitch so I guess I’ll probably vote for him).

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The importance of rights management

It’s fair to describe the ‘Finished Stories’ folder in my Dropbox as “cluttered”.

Sort your clutter

I mentioned a while ago several of my stories have been accepted for publication but have not yet appeared in print or online, for various reasons. Others have been in print for a while and the exclusivity terms under which they were sold have expired.

It occurred to me I was in danger of losing track of my inventory.

The purpose of storytelling is primarily to entertain readers preferably so much so they will go out of their way to tell me I’m a genius who changed their life. But I’m also trying to work toward being a professional writer, slowly slowly, and one of the things that pros do is keep track of their rights.

(Note: I’m only familiar with the speculative short story market, so I’ll talk about that. But similar principles apply to authors flogging their books to traditional markets as well)

(Second caveat: I am not a contracts lawyer, or indeed any other kind of lawyer. I read a lot of contracts for my day job, which serves me well for basic stuff like this. You should still consult with someone who knows what they are talking about if you are unsure what your contract terms mean).

Every publishing contract will have different terms about how a piece can be used – basically setting out what reproduction rights the publisher is purchasing from the author.

Typical contract terms might be something like “Exclusive print and electronic rights for two years from date of publication”.

Meaning – the author agrees to grant the publisher the right to publish the work in print and online, and for a period of two years, nobody else – not even the author – may publish the piece in any form. After that term expires, the publication rights revert to the author, who could then sell the piece again as a reprint, include them in a collection of stories, or chuck them on their website as a freebie.

The publisher might also decide to produce a “Best of the year” anthology, and could exercise the option to include the author’s story in it, but might need to negotiate new (non-exclusive) reprint rights.

The author might negotiate payment (cash, copies of the anthology or journal issue, or some other form of remuneration) for some or all of these rights. For me, though, the professional element is being in a position to know what rights sit with whom, at any given time, and – critically – when they revert back to the author.

For example, my first published work was ‘Imported Good – Aisle Nine’, which was published in the CSFG anthology Next, in April 2013. Under the terms of the contract, I granted exclusive First English Language rights for one year from the date of publication. So as of April 2014, the rights came back with me and I can now try to sell the story on to a reprint market if I desire.

I have about 15 or so stories out on submission or sitting in queues waiting patiently for their publication date. That’s a manageable load as it stands. But I’m writing new stories all the time, and each new piece adds to the complexity of what I’m tracking.

In addition, while most stories lose their sales value once the first-use rights are discharged, some could become more valuable. As an example, the Aurealis Award nomination for my story ‘The Lighthouse at Cape Defeat’ could theoretically make it more attractive to a reprint market, such as an anthology of Best Haunted Lighthouse Tales 2017.

But that story was published in April 2016 and the rights will not revert to me until April 2017, so I can’t sell it for publication until after that date. If the terms of the original sale had been a two-year exclusive period, I would have missed out on the opportunity to get it into that oddly specific example anthology.

So I’ve applied myself to two jobs this month. The first is a general cleanup so that I’m not mixing up unfinished drafts with submission-ready manuscripts or final edited-and-proofed versions.

(Honestly – don’t let your story folders get cluttered. It looks awful and you might accidentally submit a vomit draft to a professional podcast market, which is a completely hypothetical rookie mistake I just thought up with my own imagination based on no recent real-world incidents)

The second is to pull together a spreadsheet of all my stories – the basic details include word count, genre and when they were written. For pieces that have been accepted somewhere, I’ve included publication details like dates of acceptance, dates of contract signing, what payment terms were offered, what rights were leased, dates of publication and rights reversion dates.

It’s a small amount of work now, but I hope it will save me some headaches down the track

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Seven Questions for Jodi Cleghorn

Jodi Cleghorn is an author, poet, editor and small press owner with a penchant for the dark vein of humanity. Her creative exploits can be followed via her website, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Jodi’s launched the new paperback edition of her novella Elyora on the fourteenth of February this year. I took the opportunity to ask Jodi seven questions about the long road that brought her to this point and her thoughts on small press and independent publishing.


1) You’ve described your novella Elyora as Australian gothic horror; for readers unfamiliar with my effusive review from a few years ago, can you explain what it’s about?

This is where I am so glad this is a slow-paced, written interview, because even after all these years, I still don’t have a succinct answer for what Elyora is about; to go into any depth risks spoilers. I could simply say: read Dave’s most excellent review* (I almost used the line about a band on the verge of breaking through breaking up in my promo material!) but that would be kind of lazy.

On the surface it’s a story about love, betrayal, bad decisions and the beds lain in (literally and metaphorically). But it’s also a story about intolerance, xenophobia and the monsters those create; twisted branching paths spawned from revenge.

Elyora’s heart is Jo Belato though, a twenty-something musician who wants to escape the claustrophobia of the country through her band, FaunaBate. Instead, she finds herself trapped in the most horrific kind of ‘in country’. Heart-broken and abandoned, she has to remember who she is to find a way out of Elyora—a town caught within a circuitous repeating history.

Dave originally reviewed River of Bones as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2013. I’d like to extend a special offer to anyone buying the novella with a view to include it as part of their commitment to the challenge this year. I’ll include something extra in the mail out for anyone who puts ‘AWWC’ into the buyer’s notes when purchasing via my website.

2) Please tell me it’s wicked dark humour and not pure coincidence that the launch happened on Valentine’s Day (14th of February).

Oh, this was very my own brand of wickedly, dark humour and yes, it kept me suitably entertained and occupied on the day of Hallmark.

But I hadn’t really planned it that way originally. I looked for the date two weeks in advance from the day I finished typesetting – and it just happened to be the 14th February.

3) Elyora’s publication history is more circuitous than the usual route to market. How would you summarise the backstory that brought you to this point?

For brevity’s sake, I’m going to do a dot point timeline.

June 2012 – First draft written during a QWC Rabbit Hole event inspired by Matthew Lamb’s invitation (of Review of Australian Fiction) to Rabbit Holers to submit a short story or novella length piece from the event for possible inclusion in a special edition.

July – Dec 2012 – Matthew Lamb queried with a short blurb. Invited to submit. Lesley Halm, guest editor for the special edition, accepted the novella. December 23rd, after two rounds of intense edits with Lesley, (and multiple iterations between of my own edits) Elyora was born. Lesley wrote in her editorial that if Stephen King and Neil Gaiman had a love child, it would be Elyora. I was mortified at the comparison, I was definitely not good enough for that, so I only told a few very close friends about Elyora’s publication.

January 2013 – Sean Wright, having reading Elyora as part of interview prep with me, insisted I resubmit the novella to a paying market.

February 2013 – Contacted a friend working for a new UK digital-first publisher with details of Elyora. Six days later I signed a contract for a revised version of the novella, now named River of Bones. Two days later Elyora appeared on Aurealis Awards list in the horror category.

On release, River of Bones tanked; my first royalty cheque was just $17. A growing collection of positive reviews suggested it was not the writing letting it down. As a Kindle-only release, and marketed as a dark thriller, I felt it was somewhat prevented in many ways from finding its intended audience.

January 2016 – Included in Australia Day promotion by UK publisher. Made #1 in the horror charts, selling enough to land #13 on the best sellers list. Made me realise it was a story that still had traction.

November 2016 – My printer offered free title set up. I decided to typeset Elyora to print a single copy as a reference for a screenplay I’d been intending to write for years. The rest is the next chapter of this wee slip of a story’s history.

4) The UK ebook publisher renamed the story “River of Bones”, which I’ve always thought of as a pretty generic horror title (though not inaccurate). How important was it to you to restore the original title for this print version?

Oh, you have no idea how important.

The seed of the story sprung from a dream. In the dream, Elyora was the woman central to the dream’s narrative. In my story, the town became Elyora, the woman Eleanor. Removing Elyora as the title, felt like cleaving part of the essence from the story. In Australia, we have no problems in naming our books after places. We get that place is character as much as setting in our vast landscape.

I could understand where my publisher was coming from – they wanted to market it as a dark thriller. They said that Australian gothic was too narrow a market. They said the name Elyora was too parochial – an international market wouldn’t understand what it was. The title needed to sell the book. But I wish I’d stood my ground. It is my one regret.

Having restored the original title, I feel am less likely to take a random detour off the New England and end up in the township of Elyora for penance.

5) Not many traditionally published books get a second chance to find an audience. Through your small press, eMergent Publishing, you’ve published the paperback edition while the ebook version is still available through the Kindle store. Do you have any advice for other authors about managing the rights to their work?

Don’t give away any rights you do not have to. If your publisher wants your digital rights, ensure they have a rigorous and well-supported digital publishing arm. The same goes for paperback rights.

Ensure any contract has a sunset clause so you can claim back your rights if your manuscript is not published in that medium in the specified time (two years is generally the ballpark). My contract also has a reversion clause based on sales, so when my sales drop to a certain number over two accounting periods, I am eligible to have them returned.

Always get a second opinion from someone who specializes in publishing contracts, such as Alex Adsett, to ensure the contract is in your favour, not just your publisher’s.

6) Obviously if you’re willing to design and print a book yourself, you’ve found some frustrating aspects to going through a traditional publisher. Would you still try the traditional route for the right project, or has this experience shifted you more towards the self-publishing end of the spectrum?

I’m always happy to consider what the best fit for a project is and pursue that rather than apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

For Elyora, I didn’t want to have to compromise. I’d already done that. I also didn’t want to have to wait. I was happy to take it on. I’ve been editing, designing and publishing books since 2009. Elyora is pretty simple compared to some of the more complex anthologies I’ve done through eMergent.

The big thing for me was the cover. A friend, back in 2013, photographed me, wet and dirty, as Eleanor for the cover. It was the wrong time to follow through (as fun as it was to stand wet and dirty in my friend’s studio!) It was pure accident that the cover came together the way it was. And it was the cover that compelled me to take it further than just a single copy for myself.

I’ve self published two chapbooks, and now Elyora. However, my co-written novel, with Adam Byatt, is out on submission with traditional publishers. My birthpunk novellas will probably follow Piper’s Reach in seeking a traditional market placement. I guess that I am lucky that should all avenues be exhausted, self-publishing is less of an onerous undertaking than it might be for someone else. Being open to all the possibilities seems to me, to continue to be advantageous.

7) Between the tag line of this book (“The road to nowhere is calling”) and the anthology you edited a few years ago called Nothing But Flowers: Tales of Post-Apocalyptic Love, I get the sense you might be a Talking Heads fan. Me too! What’s your favourite song, album and weird David Byrne moment?

Um, yeah! I have a definite soft spot for Talking Heads. The Best of was one of the very first CDs I bought (and I still have it – though I think it struggles to be played beyond track 15 now). I’d spent an entire ten-hour road trip trying to come up with an idea for a Valentines antho and it was serendipity, as much as forward planning, that landed Talking Heads’ Nothing, But Flowers there. In 2012, a bunch of us rented a house in Byron Bay and the first song that went on, as we all assembled, was Nothing, But Flowers. Thanks, Jason!

Favourite song? I think it is probably ‘And she was’. Byrne said it was written about a neighbor who would meditate, at night, in the long grass surrounding a factory near where they lived. But then, well I could just as easily say it was ‘Take Me to the River’ for its brooding baseline (and it kind of fits with Elyora). Favourite album? It’s probably still my battered The Best Of! And as for Byrne – my partner, Dave, could probably answer this better as he’s the one with the not-quite-so-closet love affair with Byrne. Musically, I’ve been exposed to Byrne’s more obscure collaborations (Here Lies Love, with Fat Boy Slim about Imelda Marcos) and Brian Eno (Everything That Happens Will Happen Again and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts). But I still remember vividly where it started. Byrne on the TV in a technicolour film clip at my boyfriend’s in 1992. He was a big fan. For the life of me I have no idea what the song was. Just that Byrne was weird and crazy. It resonated, even if I hadn’t yet made contact with my weird and crazy.

Jodi Cleghorn

Thanks for answering the Seven Questions Jodi. Just a reminder that Jodi’s offering a bonus surprise to anyone who purchases
Elyora through her website with the intention to read it for the Australian Women Writers Challenge (which is also a great project which anyone can support!)

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Aurealis nomination!

The 2016 Aurealis Award shortlists were announced today. I am delighted and utterly dumbfounded that my story “The Lighthouse at Cape Defeat” is a finalist in the Best Fantasy Short Story category!


The Aurealis Awards are an annual award for Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction (including children’s and YA works). Each category is judged by a panel of volunteers from the spec fic community, who pore over an enormous stack of eligible works to arrive at the shortlists and winners.

(Seriously, they read dozens of novels or hundreds of stories in their categories. All credit and awe for everyone who takes on such an amazing workload).

The winners will be announced at a ceremony at Swancon in Perth over the Easter weekend. Sadly I doubt I’ll be able to be there, but I’ll certainly be hanging off every tweet!

Congratulations and good luck to all the finalists. In particular I want to give a shout out to my many fellow Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild members for their various nominations: Alan Baxter (thrice!), Kaaron Warren (also thrice!), Ian McHugh, Tim Napper, Leife Shallcross, Shauna O’Meara, Simon Petrie, Tehani Wesselly, Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Felicity Banks. I’m proud to be in such dazzling company.

Late edit: OMG I should not have written that so late last night. I completely forgot to congratulate my friend Andrea Höst, whose novella “Forfeit” is a glorious, dazzling fantasy of masked balls, intrigue and complicated game design. Not to mention she’s one of the comparatively few authors flying the flag for self-published work in Australia, so it’s lovely to see her in the finals again.

“Lighthouse” appeared in Aurealis #89 (still available!) and I offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to publisher and editor Dirk Strasser for publishing the story, and to my writer friends Jodi Cleghorn, Tim Napper and Evan Dean for their help in knocking it into shape.

(I’ve almost certainly forgotten someone too – I’ve just discovered that I tossed out all my older notes from the CSFG short story critiquing group, and I honestly can’t remember who if anyone else read the early drafts! If I’ve neglected anyone in the specific, be it known I am more grateful than my feeble memory would suggest).

I’ll probably have more to say about this soon. An awards nomination is one of those milestone markers I talked about a while back, one that I honestly did not expect to come along so soon. For right now let’s just say I’ve spent the day in an inordinately excited state and now I’m running on post-adrenal fumes.

I do have one last thing to do, mind you:


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