Q&A with Pamela Hart

On Thursday, 29 September EWF is teaming up with Hachette Australia for a unique event that will take you inside – literally inside – one of Australia’s biggest and brightest publishing houses. We spoke with Hachette author Pamela Hart ahead of her appearance at Inside the Publishing House next week. 

You’ve written for both children and adults and across multiple genres including children’s fiction, epic fantasy, crime fiction and historical fiction. Is your process for writing different across different genres?

The main difference is if the book is illustrated. When you know an illustrator will be working with your text, you build in clues for them about, for example, the way the character looks, or moves, or the elements of the setting – but you do that in a way which makes it easy to cut those sections out, because once the illustrator has done their work, you don’t need that information in the text anymore. And as an illustrator will do roughs and the final images, you may have a back and forth which goes on for quite some time. Picture books typically get far more drafts done on them than novels do! My last non-fiction picture book, Desert Lake, had somewhere around 25 drafts.

Apart from that, I think the process of writing is pretty much the same across genres and age groups. The only advantage of writing for children is that the books are shorter (and, of course, having kids love your work is wonderful!).

Do you have any writing habits and routines for your work you can share?

Hah! I’m not really a routine kind of person. The best habit I can advise is off-site back-up – I had a student tell me only last night that she’d lost 8000 words because she didn’t back up off her computer. How horrible! I’m a fan of emailing yourself at the end of every writing session. Even if every one of your devices was destroyed/stolen, your ISP would still have a copy!

The other habit I have is to talk about my work with my husband, who is also a writer (and an excellent reader!). He doesn’t have to do much except listen – but I find that talking my book through helps me a great deal, especially when I can’t figure out what to do with a scene. On the other hand, my friend Debra Adelaide NEVER talks about her work in progress, because she finds it stops her imaginative work dead.

What are you working on right now?

My current book is called A Letter From Italy, and is about a woman war correspondent in World War I Italy, reporting on a part of Australian history no one’s ever heard of: the Australian Navy’s involvement in the blockade of the Adriatic Sea. Rebecca, my main characters, is trying to break through serious barriers to make it in her profession, and is also dealing with the terrible effects of reporting on war. She forms a close partnership with an Italian-American photographer, which leads to a number of personal complications, as she’s already married.

Can you tell us about the last book you read and loved, and what’s currently on your to-read pile?

Recently I went to the Romance Writers of Australia conference and shared an apartment with Bronwyn Parry, who writes romantic suspense. I thought it would be polite of me to read one of Bronwyn’s books, so I started with the first one, As Darkness Falls, and liked it so much I just read my way through her whole output, and then had to wait impatiently for the new one, Sunset Shadows! But it was worth the wait.

As for ‘to-read’ – one book finishes, the next one starts! So I’m reading widely about nursing in World War I, as my next book, Lanterns on the Nile, is about a nurse who goes to Egypt to help nurse the wounded from Gallipoli. There are some fabulous diaries from actual nurses available. As a historical fiction writer, I read a LOT of non-fiction, as well as fiction. I also like to read fiction that my characters might have read, so I’ll be going back to Joan Savage and Mary Grant Bruce, who were very popular at the time.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for emerging writers?

I think my best advice for emerging writers is:
* read outside your genre and keep up to date with what is being published
* engage with your community – especially in genre fiction, there are fabulous communities out there where you can engage with readers, editors, publishers and other writers.
* keep writing! Start your next book as soon as you submit the one you’ve just finished. If not the writing, then the thinking and the planning. But beware! Writing is an addiction. People can walk away after their first book, but once they get to their second or third, they’re gone. Although I’m smiling as I write this, I’m not really joking.
* get a circle of beta readers who are really critical but who also have the language in which to discuss writing with you. People who can give informed feedback.
* listen to your editor and believe what she says. Editors are highly skilled at identifying problems. The problem won’t go away. If your editor identifies a problem with your work, fix it – even if it means throwing away half of the book! Trust me, it’s worth it.

and finally:
* Writing can be a torture – but, on the whole, it should be fun. So have fun with it!

Pamela Hart is an award-winning author for adults and children. She has a Doctorate of Creative Arts from the University of Technology, Sydney. Under the name Pamela Freeman she wrote the historical novel The Black Dress, which won the NSW Premier’s History Prize for 2006. Pamela is also well known for her fantasy novels for adults, published by Orbit worldwide, the Castings Trilogy, and her Aurealis Award-winning novel Ember and Ash. Pamela lives in Sydney with her husband and their son, and teaches at the Australian Writers’ Centre. A Letter from Italy is her thirtieth book, and follows The Soldier’s Wife and The War Bride.

Don’t miss Pamela in conversation with her publisher Rebecca Saunders at our industry day Inside the Publishing House on Thursday 29th September at Hachette Australia. Tickets are strictly limited, so be sure to book yours today!

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