“Find your voice” and other tips from Mandy Beaumont

Nicole McKenzie  

We asked 2018 Richell Prize shortlistee Mandy Beaumont all about her writing routine, manuscript advice and recommendations, ahead of the 2019 Richell Prize closing date (8 July).

Tell us about your – soon to be published – shortlisted entry Wild, Fearless Chests (previously titled She is Bright Light and All Brilliance).

Wild, Fearless Chests is a collection of short stories that explore the idea of women, women in place, women as projections, women not as they actually are and as they are, women as they are imagined and fantasised about – as they are limited and defined by. It’s brutal and unflinching in its subject matter, so it’s probably not for the faint of heart, but it’s most defiantly for those wanting something to punch them in the chest.

How did being shortlisted for the Richell Prize help your career?

To be shortlisted for such a large and prestigious award was a great confidence booster. As a writer, I spend so much time in my own head and in my own space, and it’s always such a nice shock to hear that my writing is reaching someone and meaning something beyond my desk. To be shortlisted in the Richell gave me the confidence to reach out to Jacinta Di Mase, the agent I’d been wanting to work with for some time, and work hard on finishing the manuscript I’d submitted. I’ve since signed with Jacinta Di Mase and secured a two-book deal with Hachette. Wild, Fearless Chests will be on the shelves in bookstores next February, and the second book, which will be my first novel, will be out in 2022. So yes, being shortlisted in the Richell prize was a real game changer for me.

Where and when do you write? Do you have any particular writing habits?

I write at home at the kitchen table in silence. I have to have a full day to myself to write though. I’m so not one of those writers who can ‘sneak in’ an hour before work to write. I need to have nothing else to do, which means I plan my other work and projects out and work hard on them all week so I can sit down at least one full day a week to write. On writing days, I get up, make a coffee, cuddle my dog and then sit down and don’t move for hours. On a good day I’ll find my rhythm and pace early on and slam out about 2,000–4,000 words. Sometimes they are shit; sometimes they are spot on, and by the end of it, I’m exhausted and end up on the couch with a wine listening to records. So for me it’s all about planning, focus and uninterrupted time.

Can you share some tips for writers working on their first manuscript?

  1. Find your voice. Write it out until you find it. It may take you years. Keep working to find it. Keep going, keep writing and working on the craft of it. The story will come, and the story can be moved and edited, but the voice will be what makes you a good writer. For me, I know I’m writing voice well when there is a small violence in the way I’m sitting and writing. It’s like a strong rhythm. It’s never hard for me to write when the voice is right.
  2. Don’t compromise on what you have written. My work was knocked back for years and years (still is regularly) and I just kept at it, not once compromising on my subject matter, my style or my voice. I think that if you do compromise on your writing then you need to ask yourself, what are you really writing for?
  3. Find the heat. The best writing is where the heat is. What is the heat in your work? Where does it sit?  What is going to move the reader to want to read more? For me, the heat is when words fall over each other and make new meanings on the page, when the story moves forward without effort, when the writing moves to some kind of physical response in me. Try and find it every time you sit down to write.
  4. When you’re writing it, don’t worry what other people will think of the manuscript. Don’t write for anyone but yourself. (Refer to points 1, 2 and 3, over and over again).

What’s the secret to a great synopsis?

I would suggest keeping that strong voice that you write your manuscript in, in your synopsis. Don’t step out of that voice to write the synopsis like a job ad. A good agent or publisher knows what good writing is and will see it immediately in your synopsis, and may be excited enough to want to open the first page of the manuscript you have sent them. Also be succinct, don’t ramble. Keep it brief – that’s the whole idea of a synopsis. Make it as tight as you can.

What is your advice for 2019 Richell Prize entrants?

I’m going to give really practical advice here. Make sure you submit your best work. Edit it. The magic happens in the edit. Make sure you do what is asked in the application. Don’t make it harder for the judges than it already is. Last year there were 660 entries – that’s a LOT of submissions to read. Even if you are brilliant, the next Bret Easton Ellis, you don’t want to fuck it up for yourself because you decided to send in an application that didn’t adhere to the submission guidelines. Again, this all comes down to editing your application. Take the time. Do it.

What are your favourite recent reads/shows/art?

I’ve just finished re-reading Praise in the wake of the loss of arguably Australia’s finest ever writer, Andrew McGahan. It was such a seminal book for me as a reader and as a writer. In fact all of McGahan’s works were masterful, and his voice on the page will be much missed. I’m excited to get stuck into Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin and, once released, In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. I’ve just seen Betty Grumble’s show Love and Hate  – a feminist manifesto, a riot of all that is female – for the first time. It was utterly glorious. See it. I’m also pretty obsessed with the art of Marlene Dumas at the moment and am sitting here daydreaming of seeing her work in NYC next year.

Applications to the 2019 Richell Prize are open from now until 8 July.