The other side of the world

DSC09985It was a typical winter’s day on the harbour at Bremen, Germany on the 27th of November, 1964. There was an icy cold wind that stung any exposed skin and gnawed right through to the bone.

The ‘Flavia’ pulled out from the dock and struck a steady course towards the line of the horizon as if even the boat was keen to head to warmer climes.

Ilse Hopfengärtner stood on board the liner watching as her home country receded into the distance. She had chosen this when she had chosen her new husband, Heinz. He had arrived back in their small home town with stories of the warm wide welcoming land of Australia and his plans to return there to live. They had been married a matter of months later to secure a twin-berth on the ship, with Ilse’s parents having to give permission because she was not yet twenty-one years old. But the excitement of the adventure was tinged with trepidation as the only place where she knew the language, the culture, the lifestyle disappeared, slowly blending into the fuzzy line of the horizon. She was heading to the other side of the world.

Two years. She’d promised Heinz she’d stay for two years. He’d promised to bring her back if she really wanted to go home after that. It was four years later that they returned to Germany for a holiday and both knew by the end of it that ‘home’ was now on the either side of the world.

They lived in Melbourne, then moved to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, back when there was only one set of traffic lights in Maroochydore. They raised two Australian children. It was really no surprise when their daughter, aged nearly twenty-one headed overseas for adventure. It was ostensibly to meet all of the German relatives and it was by plane rather than boat. But it still mirrored the journey Ilse and Heinz had taken nearly thirty years earlier.

Here’s where this becomes my story. I am the sometimes-wayward child, the Australian daughter of German migrants. I grew up knowing once my education was finished, I would head over to Germany to meet my family and see where my parents came from.

Both of my parents grew up in the town of Dinkelsbühl. It is one of those picture- perfect medieval towns, with a wall around it and crooked streets of cobblestones inside. My parents had told me stories about their childhood, about growing up in a small town, surrounded by family, where everyone knew who you belonged to. Before travelling to Germany, my idea of ‘family’ consisted of my parents and a brother. I had fifteen uncles and aunts and also fifteen cousins, most of whom I met for the first time. There was so much to catch up on, two family histories to absorb.

I then travelled further afield. I ended up using Germany as a base for international travels. Despite my mother’s fears that I would find love on the other side of the world as she had, I did return home after several years, once again making the Sunshine Coast home. I settled down and started a family of my own, a second generation of Australians.

Last week, I returned to Dinkelsbühl. It’s now been over fifty years since my grandmother hugged her youngest daughter, my mother, in the lounge room of the family home and begged her not to go to the wilds of Australia. My grandparents have long since passed away but my aunt and cousin still live at Wörnitzstraße 5, where my mum grew up. It has changed surprisingly little since last century. The house itself is hundreds of years old, the bricks themselves holding on to times past and keeping the memories in. Somehow it affects me. This history is my history, memories that aren’t mine seeping out through the floorboards and creeping into my bones.

In the twenty years since I was last in Germany, I’ve become an author. My first book has been published in German as ‘Die Hatz’ now and I went there to meet my publisher and publicise the book. My uncle took me to the bookshop in Dinkelsbühl where the proprietor has run the store for decades. Aged 83 now, he peered into my eyes and back through the years, to remember my parents when they were half my age. How strange then, to sign copies of my book for him, set in Australia and translated into German.

I have always been proudly Australian, quick to point out my foreign name did not mean I wasn’t born here. But my family history is part of me. I feel an intimate connection with this town on the other side of the world.

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A foreign opportunity

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This box is waiting for me at my aunt’s house in Germany.

Exciting times. Today is my first international book release. ‘A Time To Run’ is released as ‘Die Hatz’ (The Hunt) in Germany through Piper Verlag. And it’s double the celebration. Not only is it my first foreign territory but both of my parents are German. They were nearly more excited than me when I told them the book would be published in their native language, and their brothers and sisters would be able to buy it at their local bookstores.

As I am bilingual, I decided to try to seize this opportunity and make the most of it. I have spent many hours writing content in German and trying to make some online contacts for publicity. And in about two weeks time, I am making a flying visit to Germany to meet my publisher and try to do a little publicity. I was extremely fortunate to secure a Regional Arts Development Fund grant through my local Sunshine Coast Council program, to assist with the costs. I’m also fortunate that my hubby is fully supportive of this plan and will take control of the work/kids/household juggle for a couple of weeks.

There was also a bit of a snowball effect. The book will be released in Spanish on May 17 through Ediciones B. When I told the editor at Ediciones B that I was coming to Germany, she invited me to come and visit her in Spain. So my German trip will include a side trip to Barcelona.

My head is spinning. My stomach is churning. I don’t want to stuff this up.

The thing is, writing is still a hobby for me. It must be. As a mid-list writer in Australia, it is impossible to pay the bills with proceeds from books. The population is too small. The competition for a reader’s dollar is too big. If you sell 5000 copies of your book in Australia, it is considered a bestseller. With a writer usually getting about 10% of the recommended retail price, you can quickly get an idea of what a writer’s finances look like. That’s why I’m still a police officer. The pay is much better, my family lives comfortably. But I dream of quitting, of being a writer and paying the bills as well.

Breaking into the foreign market can make a big difference for me. If the book sells well in Germany and Spain, the publishers will hopefully buy subsequent novels. Other European countries will be more likely to buy the books if they can see sales in neighbouring territories. There is a big potential here. Can I capitalise on this optimistic beginning? Will I crack book markets bigger than Australia? I’m about to find out. Wish me luck.

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Online launch for ‘The Twisted Knot’

IMG_6498One year ago, I wrote a blog post celebrating the release of my debut novel, A Time To Run. It was a momentous occasion for me, signalling what I hoped would be the start of a new career. Twelve months down the track, and so much has happened. A Time To Run continues to sell well. I am represented by Curtis Brown literary agents. The novel was sold to Germany. A film producer took a short option on the book, giving them three months to raise development funding to turn it into a movie. It’s been one heck of a ride.

Somewhere amongst that, I wrote and edited the sequel to A Time To Run. This week, The Twisted Knot will be released and I take the next step towards leaving my ‘day job’ as a police officer.

The Twisted Knot follows Constable Sammi Willis as she returns to active duties at Angel’s Crossing police station and gets caught up in the investigation of a suicide where everything is not as it seems.

As I am still a bit iffy about revealing my real identity, I am having an online launch. I will be launching through Facebook on June 30th between 7:30 and 9pm EST on my FB author page JM Peace Author. You’ll have the opportunity to win a signed copy of my book just by dropping by. There’ll be competitions and a couple of special guests, Kim Lock, Sarah Ridout, and Elizabeth Kasmer (pending internet connection at the camping ground she’s holidaying at) will pop past to talk about their novels.

Everyone is welcome. Feel free to wear trakky daks and uggs. I know I will be.

 

 

 

Why you should buy an Aussie book for Christmas

 

Oz madeOne hundred thousand books. When I told a friend that my book had been published, that was her first guess as to how many copies had been printed. First it made me laugh. Then it made me a little sad. She thought by having a book published, I would then be able to leave my ‘day job’ as a police officer and be a full-time writer. How very wrong she was.

I have learnt that being a writer in Australia has to be treated as a hobby. It is extremely difficult to make a living out of writing, especially if you have regular bills to pay. You know,the little things – food, mortgage, internet connection.

I’m not whinging. I’m one of the lucky ones. My book is on the shelves. My story is being read. And that, actually, is what this post is about. We need to keep local books on the shelves. Writers are up against it, and with the government continuing to tighten the screws through proposed changes to copyright laws, life as an Aussie mid-list author is financially untenable.

But Australians need Australian books. We need books about places we know, characters we recognise. We need slang and shared history. We need stories by the people who know us – Australian authors. Like music and television, it is easy for suppliers to turn to the USA or Europe and start importing. But stories, along with other artistic works, help to create our unique identity.

So, for Christmas this year, consider buying an Australian book. A novel is the perfect gift. There’s one to suit everyone – all ages, all interests. A book is like a little holiday, an escape into another world. It will stay with you after you’ve closed the cover. Who can remember a favourite story they read as a kid? A great book will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Buy a book as a Christmas present for yourself. Buy one for that relative no-one ever knows what to get. Buy a book for a child – your own, someone else’s or maybe even a child you don’t know via one of those wishing trees. Every kid I know has enough bits of plastic crap. Buy a book because most of us are fortunate enough to have some disposal income. Just buy an Australian book.

When you pick up a book, you’re also holding someone’s dream in your hands. Every one of those books on the shelves has had innumerable hours put into it by countless people. First there’s the author, but then there are editors, designers, printers, publicists and that’s not even close to everyone.

We often talk about buying local so small businesses don’t disappear. That applies to books as well.

Support an author. Buy a book this Christmas.

Like reading crime? My novel, A Time To Run, was written in Queensland, edited in NSW and printed in Victoria.

How on earth did I get published?

IMG_5369I’ve asked myself this question many many times since signing my contract. I was an unknown, appearing out of nowhere, offering up the electronic equivalent of a ream of paper – “here’s this book wot I wrote.” And now I’m a published author. How did this happen? Why me?

There is a woman who works at my local shopping centre who looks like a publisher. Specifically, she looks like one particular editor from a major publishing house. This editor showed a lot of interest in my manuscript, only to reject it after I’d been on tenterhooks for several months. Every time I see her doppelganger at the shops, I give her a smile. She always smiles back because I am a customer and that is her job. But I smile because every time I see her, I think about how lucky I am that my manuscript has actually been published. Because I do believe there is a fair bit of luck involved. Not only luck – I’ll give myself a little credit for producing a readable and marketable novel. But hundreds of writers across the country are producing readable, marketable novels and they’re not all getting published. Why me?

I spoke to an agent once. She was very interested in my manuscript. She didn’t remember having seen this previously. This is the conversation I had with her –

Me: “How does a debut author attract the attention of an agent?”

Agent: “Well, you’re doing everything right. I’m interested.”

Me: “You know you turned this manuscript down a few months ago?”

Agent: “This same manuscript?”

Me: “Yes.”

Agent: “Oh, sorry, I must have been having a bad day.”

A bad day? My literary ambitions had (at that time) been knocked flat by yet another rejection because the agent was “having a bad day”. Or I was rejected without her even bothering to look at it. Either way, it goes to show how fickle this business is. Something dismissed one day can be loved the next. I still don’t have an agent. How do you successfully tread the fine line between persistence and backing yourself, and being a pain in the neck?

I know many fine writers with way more experience/ qualifications/ talent than me who are not getting published. So why am I? I have given this a lot of thought. Sometimes, I almost feel guilty, as if my place should belong to someone more worthy.

The best I can tell, there are two reasons working in my favour. The first is my ‘point of difference’. I am a police officer. I know the procedures, I know the culture, I know the people. So the voice of authority comes through in my writing. It was an easy choice for me as a police officer to write crime. I’d like to think every writer has a story that they are the best possible person to tell it.

The second is that it’s not just about the story you wrote, it is also about ‘your story’. The author platform. Publishers seem to be looking for the complete package. A website has to exist, there has to be a social media presence. And, seriously, if I can do it, anyone can.

Then the best you can do is cross your fingers and persevere.

Blog Tour – A Time to Run

My Debut novel A Time to Run is available on June 30. Photo by Sheree Tomlinson

My debut novel A Time to Run is available on June 30. Photo by Sheree Tomlinson

As many readers of this blog will know, next month I publish my debut novel, A Time to Run (available June 30).

Set in the Queensland bush, A Time to Run is a tense, gritty crime thriller featuring a cop-turned-victim and a chilling serial killer.

The hunt is on
A GRUESOME GAME
A madman is kidnapping women to hunt them for sport.
A FRANTIC SEARCH
Detective Janine Postlewaite leads the investigation into the disappearance of Samantha Willis, determined not to let another innocent die on her watch.
A SHOCKING TWIST
The killer’s newest prey isn’t like the others. Sammi is a cop. And she refuses to be his victim.
A RUN FOR YOUR LIFE

Over the coming weeks I will be stopping by a number of fantastic Australian book blogs to talk about the book and answer some great questions. Be sure to follow my stops along the way and join the conversation using the #atimetorun hashtag!

Blog tour

The Printers

typesetLast week, my novel arrived at The Printers. I conjure up a very clear mental picture when someone mentions The Printers. It takes me back to when I was at University and on my holidays I worked at The Printers. Not a place that printed books, but nevertheless a printing factory.

It was in a shed in the middle of summer, and like being in a sauna. You didn’t open the windows to try to get a breeze because loose papers and wind do not mix well. I worked on the end of a machine that was so long it went around a corner. Anything that arrived at my end of the machine, I packed into a box. Highlights of my day included sealing one box and starting a new one, and lunch time. I spent most of the time reminding myself that I was doing this for a few short weeks only, and it was precisely why I was going to Uni. I did acquire the skill of quickly and effectively knocking papers together, which still comes in handy today. And I still know my way around a tape gun.

My Dad got me the job. He worked in the air conditioned office adjoining The Printers. By the time he retired, he had spent over fifty years in the printing industry. He started out in the early 1950s and learnt the trade of compositing – manually putting each letter for each word in each sentence on each page into place, to be inked up in order to print a single page. The process seems incredible in this day and age where my book was ‘sent’ to The Printers with the click of a mouse button. And many of its readers will never actually hold a printed copy of my book, instead reading it on some sort of electronic device and chopping The Printers out of the equation completely.

Despite torturous hours spent working at The Printers, I am still a fan of the printed book. Maybe I’m being old-fashioned and set in my ways. Electronic books are so much more sensible, more environmentally friendly. You can read them with the lights off, enlarge the print if your eyes get tired, carry hundreds of books on one device. Everything about them appeals to my sense of practicality. So why have I never downloaded one?

I think for me it has something to do with all the books that have passed through my hands during my life. Picture books on my mother’s lap, the joy of finding a particular title whilst trolling through library shelves, swapping random books whilst backpacking, reading with my own children. There is something deeply pleasurable about sitting down with an actual book. Even if the type is too small, the pages won’t sit flat or it’s too big to fit in my handbag.

I like the physical book. I’d even do another couple of weeks at The Printers to preserve it.

The trouble with the sequel

IMG_5165My second novel is called ‘A Mother’s Work’ as in the saying ‘a mother’s work is never done.” And that’s the way it made me feel. As of yesterday, the manuscript rests in the lap of my publisher. I gave it a metaphorical pat on the head then booted it out on its own.

Part of me is proud. I actually wrote a second book. It is close to the 80,000 words I was shooting for. It has a sound plot with several twists. It is plausible from a police procedural point of view. I can do this. I can write books.

But part of me absolutely shitting myself. My first story took about three years from when I started writing it to when it went to print (any day now!). The story itself was bouncing around inside my head for a lot longer than that. By the time I actually sat down at a keyboard, it had already been thought through and nutted out. I consistently typed over 1,000 words an hour. Would have been even faster if I could touch type.

During that time, I also took courses, I read widely – things like writing blogs and crime novels – and I sought advice. The manuscript was handed round, edited, and improved on as the result of comments from an agent, a publisher and an editor. It was read and re-read and re-jigged and polished and nurtured and loved. By the time it was picked up by Pan Macmillan, they decided it didn’t even need a structural edit.

On the other hand, the sequel has spent its existence scuttling around behind more important things. I started writing it to distract myself from all the waiting as agents and publishers read and contemplated my first manuscript. And then all of a sudden my debut novel was bought and the sequel along with it. It had an April 30 deadline and they had already paid me some money for it. I had to finish it.

So it was completed on the fly, whilst I juggled the extensive editing of my first novel, plus all the extras requested off me – social media and photos and biographical info. Oh, and then I still had to go to my day job, and my family wants feeding every single day.

I’ve sent off with a bunch of disclaimers. As a manuscript, it is vastly inferior to the first. I know it has errors – big ones like plot holes as well as little ones like people’s names changing halfway through the story. I’ve had a red-hot go, but a snappy six months of broken writing with a looming deadline is just not the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not whinging. I wanted this. But can I do this? Was the first one a fluke? Will this one need three years work too? Or am I a writer?

I’m going to find out in due course. But right now you’ll have to excuse me – I have to go start book three…

A publishing contract

Success! Unbelievable astounding success. I have just signed a contract with Pan Macmillan Publishers. They have bought my book. This is really going to happen. Soon my little crime story will be going out to a national audience. I will be a published writer. I will get paid. ‘Author’ will go on my tax return. The publisher wants the sequel. This is the start of a new career.

Exciting times, but underscored with some trepidation. Signing the contract is not an end – it is a beginning. Some hurdles are behind me, but there’s still more to come. Can I juggle my ‘day job’ as a police officer, with being a crime writer?

“Sure, why not?” is the obvious answer. I have already written the book – that’s the hard part isn’t it? And that was whilst juggling work, with raising two young children, ticking as many of the ‘good mother’ boxes as I can manage plus keeping the household running.

But for me, there’s an added level of difficulty. Being a serving police officer has laid out a minefield in front of me. And I am now carefully trying to tip toe through it. What I am doing is actually bound by legislation. If you are a police officer, you are always a police officer. What you do in your spare time is (to a certain extent) the Boss’s business. You have knowledge and information which is not for public dissemination, you are an agent of the Government. There are issues with secrecy, public comment, accountability, improper use of information, professional conduct and numerous other pieces of law, directives and policies.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was anything but a crime story. I have to ensure I don’t use any information that a normal person couldn’t find on Google, verify that all my characters and incidents are fictitious, and make sure my actions as a writer are ‘fair’.

I even had to go through the process of making an official request to ask permission to attempt to have my story published. That was a story all of its own.

I’m still trying hard to keep my real name secret, as a fall-back in case someone gets upset about something. But that may or may not be a bit pointless since the publisher wants me to use my own undisguised face in publicity. I will see just how far heavy makeup and a fancy hairdo will get me.

So here we go – I have sifted through all the legislation, and tried my very best to comply. This blog has now been renamed, content has been removed and it includes the officially-sanctioned disclaimer. But no-one of consequence has really noticed the blog yet. so this is untested.

There’s anxiety with the excitement. I’m holding on tight. The rollercoaster will be running for a while yet.

Yes. It's real.

Yes. It’s real.