Book Trailer Bonanza!

A couple of months ago I had the privilege of visiting Mount St Benedict College in Sydney to talk all things books and writing with some of the students there. It was pretty great because, not only were the girls delightful, but they also gave me cake.

As part of the activities leading up to the visit, the girls were invited to make book trailers for The Sky So Heavy, with the prize for the top three being lunch and cake-eating with me. I was also asked to pick a winner, which was tricky as they are all fabulous. Eventually I went with the entry by Grace Nicholson. I promised I would put links to the trailers up on my (much neglected) blog. So here they are. The first one is by Emily James. The second by Sarah Assaf. And finally, the winning entry by Grace Nicholson.


Radio National review The Sky So Heavy

I’m quite the ABC Radio National fangirl, so to hear The Sky So Heavy reviewed on Books and Arts Daily (along with some other book called The Fault in Our Stars) was more than a bit spesh. 5528698-3x4-340x453

Follow the trusty link to have a listen…


Uncovered – On finding the perfect book cover and losing it

Twelve months ago I was going to do a blog about cover design for The Sky So Heavy. But I couldn’t because I was just feeling too many feelings. I’ve always found the process of book-cover design overwhelming. This goes back to high school days and ‘design the cover’ assignments. The expectation that I would put on myself would be crippling, so determined was I to get it perfect. I was a drawer and a reader, so it should have been my thing, right? RIGHT??!! To get it wrong was unthinkable. THE SHAME! The potential for me to produce a work of stunning insight was only equalled by the potential to fail. (I’m not sure that was as profound as I’d hoped it to be. See? I’m struggling. This is why I haven’t written about this before.)

When my own book is concerned it’s about a thousand times worse – if that’s even possible without full psychological breakdown. (First World Problems, anyone?) Imagine if you had to sit down and decide what you wanted your child to look like. That’s the kind of brain explosion I experience when it comes to discussions about cover concepts.


If Fin got his shirt off more I could have had something like this for The Sky So Heavy. Shame.

Just to be clear, writers generally don’t design covers for their own books. (If you’re unsure as to why, check out the self-published book covers tumbler. Or just look to the left. There’s a reason professional designers have to go to uni for three years.) Book cover design is tricky and could well be the catalyst for a full-scale psychological breakdown if the level of neurosis exhibited by my fourteen-year-old self is anything to go by. But editors do have a discussion with the author about what they would like or any ideas they might have. As well as what they don’t want.

For The Sky So Heavy I really had no idea. I wanted to put it in the too-hard basket. I eventually nutted some vague ideas out with my editor and we ended up with something that I don’t love, but which seems to be selling well. Which means I’m finding my readers, so the cover’s done it’s job. It’s also worth pointing out that the process took place in the first year of my youngest son’s life, so it’s fair to say I had other priorities and only so much (read: very little) head space to devote to the whole thing.

Then along comes book two – not a sequel, but a stand-alone on which I have worked, off and on, for the last nine years. I have rewritten The Protected completely, not once, but twice. I guess you could say I’m kind of attached to it. (UNDERSTATEMENT.) I have also been far more emotionally present during the whole publishing process this time around, compared to The Sky So Heavy. I won’t go into details, but if you understand the level of pressure I put on myself when it came to designing an imaginary book cover when I was in high school, you can probably guess how my brain copes with the pressure of raising a tiny helpless baby. It’s not pretty. (There’s not going to be a trilogy as far as that narrative is concerned.)

The initial design the publisher sent to me for this next book was one they were very keen on, but I was not. My reasons for disliking it were partly to do with ideas about gendered book covers and partly to do with my aversion to dark close ups of pretty girls’ faces. My editor was gracious and understanding, so sent me another alternative. Which I absolutely loved. Really, truly, loved. We were in agreement, it was done. Over the last two weeks I have gazed at it on and off for long slabs of time in which I probably should have been doing other things.

But then my editor discovered another YA book, newly released in the US, with the exact same stock photo on the cover.

So it’s back to the drawing board, quite literally.

I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you want to read more about cover design and the myriad of aesthetic travesties that have been created in its name I highly recommend Caustic Cover Critic. Here you will also find many examples of unfortunate cover double-ups that weren’t caught in time…

Killing time: on character deaths

WARNING: May contain spoilers. I have done my best to avoid TSSH spoilers, but I accept no responsibility if you are too smart for your own good and inadvertently deduce key plot twists. When it comes to Game of Thrones, if you haven’t yet seen the ending to season one you only have yourself to blame. As for Offspring: everyone knows Patrick is DEAD. (Or they do now.)

Some weeks ago I wrote about how I was going to challenge my prejudices to all things fantasy and attempt to watch Game of Thrones. Despite predictions otherwise, I continued to watch beyond the first episode, largely because of two things: giant wolves and John Snow.  As I approached the end of the season I felt it was okay but given the choice between GoT and Mad Men or Breaking Bad, GoT would lose.

And then the protagonist was killed.

Yep, he of impressive coats, flowing hair and thoughtful gazing had his head chopped off before our very eyes. By a sadistic anime character who bares striking resemblance to a guy I had a major crush on in university, no less.

It was this character’s death that made me want to keep watching. As a rule, writers don’t kill off their protagonists. I watched the scene leading up to Ned’s death in a detached state of boredom: the entire time speculating on how he was going to miraculously escape his demise. And then he didn’t.

images I didn’t know at the time that George R.R. Martin – GoT’s creator and possibly also deep-sea fishing trawler captain – has quite a knack for killing off major characters. But it was the fact that he had killed off his protagonist in the very first instalment which made me want to keep watching. He had created a huge problem for himself and I wanted to see how he would solve it.

I saw a session with Markus Zusak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival a few years ago, where he claimed that he wasn’t actually a very good writer, he was just good at solving problems. He said that his manuscripts were full of major flaws and problems and it was only his ability to fix these that made him any good. This really resonated with me. Story-writing at its core is about problem solving. At its most basic, you have a character at point A and you need to get them to point B.

Killing off a character can sometimes be the start of a problem, yet more often than not it’s the solution to one. I am quite a fan of Offspring. (These days less the ‘Keep em separated’ variety and more the TV show created by Deb Oswald. Although both have their merits). TV shows, especially free-to-air ones, that feature interesting and complex female leads are rare. If you are unsure of the value of Offspring I will offer only one argument, a quote from the protagonist, Nina:

‘My fantasies usually involve men carrying bearskins.’

Enough said.

Anyone who has access to any form of social media will be aware that last week Oswald did the unthinkable and killed off the much-loved Patrick: Nina’s aesthetically pleasing partner and father of her soon-to-be-born child. Patrick was a major character. He wasn’t the protagonist and he wasn’t killed by a sadistic anime man-child (although this too would have been interesting) yet he was still a major player and his loss will provide a much-needed plot revamp. In what can only be described as an act of remarkable generosity, Oswald wrote a piece about her decision to literally write off Patrick on SMH. (This gives you an idea of the level of outrage directed at her from the show’s fans.) In the piece Oswald implies that Matthew le Nevez had to leave the show and they needed to find a plausible and satisfying way to facilitate this exit.

As GoT was a book series before it became a TV show, it’s only fair to assume that Martin wasn’t dealing with a similar issue. As a writer who absolutely does not plan a single thing, I can’t help but wonder if Martin knew all along as he was writing the first book that Ned would die. (If you know the answer, tell me!) Or did he feel that the plot was getting a bit flat and decide to pull the rug out?

For my own part I wrote the death of one of my own characters in complete surprise. I typed the words with my own hands, yet I felt like a helpless witness to the event, practically screaming with disbelief as this character breathed their last breath. So why do it? Well, things were getting a bit flat plot-wise and I figured if I could make myself cry there was a fair chance I could get the same emotional response from my readers. I don’t think people will like it. But that’s not the point.

I was horrified when lovely Patrick died and when noble Ned lost his head. (No rhyme intended, I swear.) I didn’t want either of these things to happen. But when they did I found a whole heap of new respect for their writers. Because, good writing isn’t about taking the reader on a lovely journey they want to take, it’s about convincing them to come with you to a place they’d rather not visit at all.

This is why I will be eagerly awaiting season four of Game of Thrones and why I will be sobbing solidly between the hours 8.30 and 9.30 tonight.

Kids’ Book Review Interview

The kind people over at Kids’ Book Review have published an interview I did with them. You can read it bellow or follow the link to view it and lots of other interesting things on their site…

Author interview: Claire Zorn

KBR welcomes Claire Zorn, author of The Sky So Heavy, a gripping new novel for Young Adults that is released this month.
Can you describe The Sky So Heavy in ten words or less?
A group of teenagers struggles to survive a nuclear winter. Or … A bit like The Road but with more jokes.
How did the idea for the book come to you?
I started thinking about the story roughly two years before I even wrote a word. I remember I was sitting on the train — I find train travel strangely inspiring — and I saw a scene in my mind: a teenager in a dark, cold place, trying to protect a group of people and feeling way out of his depth. I also got a line in my head: ‘I’m sixteen years old and this is the first time anyone’s held a gun to my head.’ With a little tweaking this ended up being the opening line of The Sky So Heavy.

I kept turning those ingredients  over in my mind for a couple of years. Then the debate over Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers flared again and I was struck by the way a person’s life — their access to food, shelter, medical care and education — is decided by a line on a map. I’ve always really struggled to understand the fear of asylum seekers; I feel that if people could imagine themselves and their families in those circumstances, there would be so much more compassion. So I imagined what it would take to put the average, middle-class Australian in that situation.
Is there a message in the book that you would like readers to grasp?
I hope that the story can contribute in a small way to the debate over asylum seekers and perhaps reflect the complexities of the issue. I also wanted to engage with the idea of a generation inheriting the stuff-ups of their predecessors, especially global warming. I didn’t set out to allude to that with the climate change in the book — but I like the way it is a sort of inverse global warming.
Why did you choose to write in this genre?
I like the immediacy of Young Adult fiction. I’m a very impatient reader — I want to get to the meat of a story as soon as possible — and I think that translates to my own writing. I tend to have no trouble ruthlessly pruning my stories to get to their core, which suits YA. Young readers have such a strong, shall we say, ‘crap detector’. You have to work to hold their attention. There’s nowhere to hide and I like that challenge.
I also find teenagers to be the most fascinating characters. They’re so savvy, yet there’s such vulnerability to them as well. Those years on the edge of adulthood are so complex and I really like stories that push their characters over the edge from childhood into adulthood. All my favourite books are about characters taking that journey.
Your manuscript was picked from the slush pile! Did you have the manuscript professionally edited before you sent it out to publishers?
It was picked from the slush pile in a round-about way. I reached a point with The Sky So Heavy — which I think every writer gets to — where I couldn’t keep working on it without some quality feedback. Which was when I paid to have a structural report done on it. I chose someone with lots of experience in YA, who was very well regarded in publishing circles and it was the best thing I could have done. The feedback she gave me really helped me get the manuscript to a standard it couldn’t have reached without fresh eyes. I re-drafted the whole thing after I got that report back and then submitted it to agents.
While that was happening UQP put out a call for YA manuscripts. They stipulated that they weren’t looking for speculative fiction, so I didn’t submit The Sky So Heavy, but another manuscript. They were interested in this other story, but it wasn’t quite ready enough for them to offer me a contract. By this time I had signed The Sky So Heavy to an agent and she suggested that they have a read of it. I think I submitted it to about four agents before it was picked up.
The Sky So Heavy, UQP, $19.95 RRP

Cigars, Wayne’s World and the wisdom of NRL players

ImageA truly surreal thing has happened. My kind publishers have sent me a copy of my book, literally fresh off the press. It was an event which I have imagined many times over, often swiftly followed by a warning to myself not to get too attached to the idea. Getting a book published can be horrifyingly difficult, something I know too well after a brief stint as a publishing assistant. It was my job to sift through the unsolicited manuscripts, read synopses and more often than not, write rejection letters. In some ways it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life thus far. It taught me what not to include in a pitch, if nothing else. Having a novel published has always been my ultimate goal, but I have worked very hard to keep my expectations in check.

So a few days ago two copies of my book arrived and I held it in my hands and saw words on the pages that I had written. Truly surreal. Now that it is in print it will start a new journey all on its own which I will no longer have any control over. People will read it and the characters – which up until this point have only existed in my head – will enter those people’s imaginations. I have a very precise picture in my head of what these characters look and sound like, but my style of writing tends to be a touch sparse and I haven’t included all these details in the book. How weird to think that for others these characters may look and sound completely different.

And what will people think of it? I’ve written about this before, but I tend to imagine my stories being read by fat men smoking cigars. They read my work and laugh before setting it alight and shouting ‘What rot!’. (They are bald, wear grey suits and have panoramic views of New York from their offices – if you’re interested.) I’m not sure if any fat cigar smoking men have read my work and if they have, I’m pretty sure they’re probably a lot gentler than I give them credit for. I’m not sure it’s possible for anyone to be quite as critical of my work as I am.

Still, inevitable rejection by someone, somewhere is the reality of any creative pursuit. As many a NRL player and/or rapper has said ‘There always gonna be haters’ (sic). Some people are going to hate my novel. Maybe even people I know. The flip side of this, of course, is that some people are going to love it. And it’s these people that I’ve written it for, not  cigar smoking men in New York. (Pretty sure this mental image of mine was born out of Wayne’s World. Isn’t there a TV executive in a grey suit who nearly destroys Wayne and Garth’s artistic vision? Wayne’s World is an much overlooked meditation on the tension between artistic integrity and comercial success. True fact.)

Cigar smoking men aside* on July 24th The Sky So Heavy will be released. And that, for the moment, is more than enough.