Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday, this week I'm talking to an amazing Australian writer, Sharon L Norris ...
Tell us a bit about yourself …
Having written since I was about nine years old, my greatest dream was to become a published author. I’m thrilled to say that dream came true nearly a decade ago when the first of my four children’s books was accepted for publication.
Now aged in my late forties, I’d love to tell you that I am living the writer’s dream and spending my days at the computer writing full time – but I can’t! I write around my full-time Government job, my family responsibilities (my youngest child is just entering high school) and my volunteer activities.
Having lived all over my home state of Queensland while growing up, as well as a spell in England in my late twenties, I currently live in the small township of Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory. It’s a very remote location in eastern Arnhem Land – right at the top of the Gulf of Carpentaria – and the land here is owned by the indigenous Yolgnu people. The Arafura Sea separates us from Papua New Guinea and the eastern isles of Indonesia. It’s remote. It’s wild. It’s wonderful. It’s also a great place to stir the creative spirit.
Tell us about the first time you were published?
I strongly believe that writers need to serve an apprenticeship and learn all they can about the industry and the genre/s they favour, as well as how to learn to write. In this way, ‘time’ becomes both the writer’s friend as well as their enemy.
I started writing for children in 1996, while pregnant with my first child, and spent the next seven years in the first part of my apprenticeship. I learnt all I could about writing, the industry, and how to use the internet to find out more about publishers and what they were looking for. Two of my works were accepted in 2003 - junior novels aimed at upper primary readers which were published in 2004. Finders Keepers was published by an ePublisher, Writers Exchange, and The Balloonatic! was published Macmillan Education. When the acceptance for Finders Keepers came through by email, I ran around the house screaming, so much that it frightened my youngest child, who was then just a year-old toddler.
Over time my apprenticeship has continued and taken on different elements as my focus on writing has changed. Two other book publication credits have also come my way via traditional publishers. I’m now taking my time as I work on the biggest project of my career – a two-book story aimed at young adults.
As writer, what has been your proudest achievement so far?
For the first time ever, I entered a writing competition in 2013 and made the final three shortlist. The CYA (Children’s and Young Adult Writers and Illustrators) Conference has a prestigious annual writing competition which features a section for published authors. I decided to try my hand by submitting the first three chapters of my current work-in-progress, a young adult novel whose story will be told over two books.
Titled The Land of the Free, this story was shortlisted with two other works (including that of my friend and fellow critique group member RJ Timmis) and the final placings in the competition were decided by an editor from a major publishing house. My story didn’t come first, but with feedback of 100% from the preliminary judges and a 5/5 for the ‘wow factor’, I felt like I’d won lotto. This result has encouraged me to go on and continue writing this story. My goal for 2014 is to finish the first book.
What books or writing projects are you currently working on, if anything?
In 2013 I started turning my hand to young adult fiction. This is completely new for me as my writing to date has been firmly aimed at the ‘tween audience. I’m now working on a two-book story that is categorised as ‘futuristic dystopian’ – a story set in the future in a society that is far from perfect. Inspired by The Hunger Games, I’m writing about teens living in an oppressive society where a lot of personal freedoms have been removed from what remains of the world’s severely depleted population. It’s titled The Land of the Free, and the second book will be titled The Home of the Brave. You may well recognise these as the iconic words of the American national anthem. They are also the themes of this two-part young adult story.
My other writing projects are (hopefully!) interesting. I’m looking to start creative writing groups to cater for primary and high school writers in my town, and I’m developing a project to obtain books for libraries in the remote indigenous towns in Arnhem Land.
The first project, the writing groups, is really important to me. My own writing has benefited greatly by being involved in writing critique groups and I’m currently in two that are physically located in south-east Queensland. As I now live in the remote NT, I use Facebook’s video facility to ‘dial in’ to my writing groups when their meetings are held, and I can participate from afar in that way. There is no group locally that I can join for this specific genre-specific writing, and there’s nothing like this for children, so I am determined to start up writing groups for older and younger students, hopefully meeting at the town library.
I say ‘hopefully’ because our town is going through tremendous turmoil at present and the population will change dramatically in the coming months. Mining giant Rio Tinto will close its bauxite refinery by 1 July 2014 and its 1100 workers will leave our town of 4,000, taking their families with them. How many writing children will be left when the aluminium dust settles is anyone’s guess. I will have to wait and see.
My other project, tentatively titled Authors and Others For Arnhem, is important on so many levels. The average Australian has no idea what life is like in remote communities – in particular, remote Indigenous communities. In east Arnhem Land, English is often a fourth or fifth language for Yolgnu people. There aren’t that many books in languages the locals can read. The libraries are very small or may not exist at all in some communities. In one community I visit regularly, the library is set up on one side of a community meeting room. In another community, the library is inside a converted shipping container.
Every day, mainstream TV blasts us with ads asking us to give money to support the less fortunate and people doing it tough in other countries. While that’s important, it’s also important to remember Australia is the size of Europe and we have less fortunate citizens and people doing it tough right here at home. But because you often don’t get to hear about what’s happening in remote areas, you don’t know about it. Right now, I’m at concept-development stage with this project. There’s a lot of thinking that needs to be done about how to get people to donate books for these communities, and how to distribute them across the distance. I aim to progress this project in 2014 to the point where I can start asking for books to be donated.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
The kitchen table has always seemed the perfect place to write for me. It’s where my writing comes together. The thought of closeting myself away in a closed space like an office doesn’t sit well with me. Not that I’m claustrophobic or anything, but I prefer the open space.
I also ‘write’ when I’m outdoors. In my current location, I’m just five minutes’ drive from the beach so I walk up and down the beach every day. The fresh air and exercise certainly help with my creative process. Of course, there are saltwater crocodiles in the sea where I live in Northern Australia, so walking on the beach can sometimes be fraught with peril. It’s important to always keep one eye on the water, especially at high tide, and never walk the same stretch of beach at the same time every day…
Which do you prefer? eBooks or Paper Books? Why?
I like both, actually. eBooks make it so easy to take large works with you on the bus, to work, to the park or the beach, and lazing on your bed. Paper books are great, but bulky. I’d much rather put my Kindle in my handbag than a huge 350-page novel.
Aside from your own books, of course, what is one book that you feel everybody should read?
I think everyone should take the time to read The Diary of Anne Frank. It’s a book that has touched hearts everywhere, made tears tumble down cheeks, and has brought resolutions that we must stand up to tyranny so that the children of the future have a safe place to live (another theme of my current work-in-progress). With all the conflict going on around the world at present, much of it because followers of different religions can’t accept or tolerate each other, it’s increasingly important for people to be reminded that the genocidal horrors of the past are still happening today and should not be happening.
Finally … is there anything you would like to say to your readers in Adelaide, Australia?
If you look directly north from Adelaide on a map, you will find the township of Nhulunbuy where I currently live. So we’re aligned on the map and aligned in our support of the written word. May you enjoy whatever you’re going to read today!