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Interview with Pamela Hart
Pamela’s Path to Publication
Today I chat with the amazing Pamela Hart about her path to publication.
Pamela 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. THE DESERT NURSE follows her bestselling novels THE SOLDIER’S WIFE, THE WAR BRIDE and A LETTER FROM ITALY.
Hi Pamela, I’m so excited to have you on my blog, and thank you so much for sharing your ‘Path to Publication’ experience with us all. I know so many of my readers will love to hear about how you went from an aspiring author to a published one, and many will gather inspiration from the journey!
Thanks so much, Maddison. I’m always fascinated by these stories myself!
As am I, and I can’t wait to read about your journey, so let’s begin!
- How long have you been writing for?
I was a scriptwriter for the PowerHouse Museum and ABC Kids in the late 80s and early 90s. I started writing stories for children in 1989 and my first book was published in 1994.
- How long did it take you from when you started writing, to when you became a published (or soon to be) published author?
That’s kind of tricky – I did creative writing courses as a minor at uni, so I’ve been writing stories since I was 18 (although never before that – I wrote poetry as a teenager). But I didn’t really try for publication until I was a scriptwriter and wrote some prose stories for an ABC Kids show, when I was 28/29. I sent the five stories to the NSW School Magazine, and they sent four back! But they published the very first story I ever wroter for kids. However, I think you have to factor in the years I’d been writing scripts for children – I’m sure that I am a much better writer because of that training.
- Where do you write from, home, office, coffee shop, etc? And do you have any pre-writing or actual writing rituals (such as lighting a candle, listening to music, etc)?
I tend to write sitting cross-legged in an armchair in my living room. But I’m soon to have a study! (We’re renovating.) As a mum, I have learnt to write anywhere, anytime I can grab a few moments – if I waited until everything was perfect or ritualised, I’d never write anything!
- Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in-between?
Very interestingly, over the last few books I’ve discovered that what I am changes with the book I’m writing. Sometimes I know exactly what’s going to happen, sometimes I know nothing! I think, if you know nothing, you end up needing an extra draft, but it doesn’t really matter.
- What is your favourite part of the writing process?
Thinking stuff up! The early stages, when you get to play with ideas and characters, and ‘what if?’ a lot. No better fun in the world.
- What is the most important part of a novel to you: plot, characters, or setting?
Well, when I write historical novels or epic fantasy, obviously the setting is important. But a great book, for me, is when the three come together in such a way that they can’t be pulled apart. The character’s reactions make the plot happen, and who the characters are has been and continues to be shaped by their environment. I aim for all three to be welded together indissoluably!
- Describe your writing routine (how long do you spending plotting the novel, time spent writing, editing, submitting it):
I’m currently a book-a-year author for Hachette, so the whole cycle happens within a year – however, the idea for the book often comes some years earlier, and I let it ‘simmer and cook’ for a while before I engage with it in a purposeful way. If I don’t do this, the book is very hard to write.
As for how much time, I have no idea (truly!), but after I have finished a good chunk of the research, I aim to write 2000 words a day. That gives you a 90,000 word novel in around three months (there are always days it doesn’t work, or when research has to be done to clear up a plot point, or I want to take the weekend off!). This is impossible if I haven’t been thinking about the work for some time, however.
I write lean in the first draft, so my final draft is usually between 95-100K
- How many books a year do you usually write (or are you aiming to write):
I write one big novel a year, plus at least one children’s book (often creative non-fiction). Sometimes two. Sometimes also a short story or two.
- How did you get your agent, or your publishing contract (if applicable)?
I no longer have an agent, but I did for 20 years. I knew another writer whom she represented, and that person said I could use her name – so I rang the agent and asked her if she’d be interested in seeing the ms of my first children’s novel. She was. She read it and recommended significant changes. I made the changes, and she took me on as a client. My first book was rejected twice, and then Allen & Unwin took it on.
- How did you cope with rejection during the querying process?
The great thing about having an agent, in the early years, is that they call you and say, ‘So and so passed on it, so I’ve sent it to X.’ It’s a much kinder experience than getting a ‘No’ email directly, because it contains hope!
Nowadays, I usually work on contract, so the rejection thing doesn’t happen as often – but when it does, it’s devastating for a while, but I remind myself that my first kids’ book was rejected twice before it found a home, and so was my first adult book!
- Describe the time when you got ‘the call’ regarding publication:
Most recently, it was for my first historical novel, The Soldier’s Wife, which I had written on spec and submitted (without an agent) to my publisher at Hachette, who published my epic fantasy. I had already done a big developmental edit on it at her request, before she took it to Acquisitions/Publication meeting.
I was at the hospital where my elderly mother was being treated prior to her going into a nursing home, so it was a very emotional time anyway – when I got the call I had to excuse myself to go into the corridor, and I hate to think what the nurses thought of the happy dance I did! Honestly, it was a really wonderful thing, because life was looking pretty dark right at that moment, and it gave the whole family something to be happy about.
- Can you describe what your own path to publication was like?
I met the writer friend who recommended me to her agent at Varuna, when I had a residency there to finish my first children’s book. Everything flowed from there – so the lesson is: apply for everything, get involved, become part of the community of whatever kind of book you’re writing.
- What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing journey?
Editing makes your book better every single time. The editor is on your side – you both want the book to be as good as possible. They are like a coach, or an opera teacher – they can’t give you a voice, but they’ll help you make your own voice as good as it can be.
On the other hand: You don’t have any control over the cover. You don’t get to sit down and work directly with your illustrator (although I am doing so for my current book which we pitched together). No publisher ever does enough publicity to satisfy an author. And you make less money than you think you might!
- Looking back, what do you think you did right that helped you break in?
I worked hard and listened to criticism; I made changes when they were suggested to me; and I took the writing seriously, not like a hobby. Also, I made connections within the writing community, and that really helped.
- Is there anything you wish you could do differently?
I wish I’d started writing for publication ten years earlier! If you want to do it, do it now!
- Best advice you’ve ever been given, or have heard, about writing?
Make the changes. And, as Sir Terry Pratchett said: The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself.
- Any advice for aspiring writers on writing and submitting?
Yes: submission guidelines are a test. They really are. Follow the publisher’s or agent’s guidelines EXACTLY. If you don’t, you’ll never be read.
- What advice can you give to other writers on building a platform and gaining a readership base?
I’m still working that one out for myself, I’m afraid.
- What’s up next for you, and what are you working on now?
Most importantly, I’m about to do the copy edit of my new historical novel, ‘The Desert Nurse’, which is set in Cairo and Palestine (as it was then) and which goes over the whole of World War I. I’m rather excited about that – it’s coming out in July 2018.
I’m also working on a couple of kids’ non-fiction books, and researching the next historical novel, which is set in the radio and movie world in London in the 1920s. It will have great frocks and music!
- How can people connect with you?
Through my website, pamela-hart.com/contact – I’m happy to talk to book clubs over Skype or do library visits. I’m afraid I don’t have time to read other people’s work, but I do teach at the Australian Writers’ Centre, both face-to-face and online: writerscentre.com.au
- Anything else you want to add?
I would say that, while this is a difficult time to get a traditional publishing contract, publishers are still always looking for new talent – so give that a go! Apart from the ego boost, working directly with a professional editor will teach you so much about writing.
If you do self-publish (and I’m a big supporter of indie publishing!), make sure you have a good developmental editor. Nothing replaces an objective, experienced eye on your work.
And have fun! It’s the best job in the world!
That is brilliant advice Pamela! Thank you so much for being a part of my interview series – I got such a lot out of reading what your Path to Publication was like and I know all of my readers will too 🙂
Pamela’s book ‘A letter from Italy’ is available to purchase now!
Inspired by the life of the world’s first woman war correspondent, Australia’s Louise Mack, the most gorgeous love story yet by Pamela Hart.
1917, Italy. Australian journalist Rebecca Quinn is an unconventional woman. At the height of World War I, she has given up the safety of her Sydney home for the bloody battlefields of Europe, following her journalist husband to the frontline as a war correspondent in Italy.
Reporting the horrors of the Italian campaign, Rebecca finds herself thrown together with American-born Italian photographer Alessandro Panucci, and soon discovers another battleground every bit as dangerous and unpredictable: the human heart.
A passionate and poignant love story set on the beautiful Italian coast by the bestselling author of THE SOLDIER’S WIFE and THE WAR BRIDE.
Pamela can be found at: