Farewell to the Father: Tim Elliott’s memoir-writing process

Max Elliott on the cover of Good WeekendTo see my client Tim Elliott’s memoir Farewell to the Father make the cover of The Good Weekend last weekend (left), as well as this extract on news.com.au, was pretty exciting, to say the least. I’ve already received several emails from people who read one of the extracts, bought and read the book, and have been moved and inspired by it.

The May edition of my monthly email (subscribe at right) featured my Q & A with Tim on his writing process, exclusively for my email subscribers.

I hope you will consider joining my list. Subscribers receive practical advice about getting published and how I work with my clients, as well as information on grants and competitions for writers.

Tim Elliott’s Farewell to the Father: from article to published memoir

Farewell to the Father cover

Fairfax journalist Tim Elliott’s memoir, Farewell to the Father, will be published in April. The gorgeous cover speaks to the richness, power and detail of Elliott’s recollections of growing up with his brilliant but manic-depressive and suicidal father, Max. It is a book that explores the pain and joy of a son’s love for his father, and of the son’s love for his own children when Tim becomes a father himself.

I am deeply thrilled to have helped Tim’s story evolve from its origin as a Sydney Morning Herald feature article to its publication as a memoir.

The reader response to the article was overwhelming, and Tim knew he was finally ready to write his story. But how to move from a 3,000 word piece to a work of perhaps 70-80,000 words?

A mutual friend referred him to me, and I helped him develop the chapter outline and clarify the arc of the story for his book proposal. Publisher interest in the proposal was extremely strong. Pan Macmillan won the right to publish Tim’s book at auction, and Tim set to work.

Nearly 18 months and several drafts later, the result of Tim’s fearless and tireless efforts is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. I hope it gets the attention and the readership it deserves.

Tim Elliott will be a guest of the Sydney Writers Festival at two events: My Family & Other Obstacles on Sat 21st May 6.00-7.00pm (with ABC Radio’s Richard Glover), and The Legacy of Family on Sun 22nd May 11.30am-12.30pm.

PS: Manuscript development and book proposal development are two of the services for writers that I offer. Please get in touch if you think you’d like to work with me, or sign up for my monthly email newsletter about improving your writing and getting published.

I’m here to help you get published

Hello writers! I had a baby last year, so I’m a bit behind on my query pile. That’s why I’ve hit the Pause button on new submissions. However, I love helping authors get published – and have a long track record of doing just that – and I’d love to hear from you, whether you’re looking for an agent or just need some information.

What is the one thing you really need to know about getting published in Australia?

If you’d rather not make your question public, please feel free to email me: info at virginialloyd dot com. Thanks so much in advance. I promise to read and respond to every comment.

 

How many things are wrong with this query letter? Let us count the ways.

This query arrived in my inbox this morning. It is possibly a joke, but experience tells me it is not. I have pasted it verbatim. How many things about it can you count that would irritate a prospective literary agent? (Not including the fact that the author attached the manuscripts to the email.) I’ll wait for some comments before providing my own list.

Dear sir /madam,                                           9/11/15

As a literary agent i request your office to edit and assist on  selling my three short stories.I have given you undue authority to work on my behalf.You can deduct your professional fee from the sales proceeds.My payments can be send through either PAYPAL or WESTERN UNION money transfer.

Thanks

[Name Withheld]

 

Update: 12/12/15

Okay, so here’s a very quick list of what ‘got my goat’ (as my mother would say) about the query above:

  • The author has taken no time to personalise his approach. I have no insight into why he decided to contact me – for example, if I had represented another writer whose work is in a similar genre to his – and therefore it feels anonymous and scattergun.
  • ‘As a literary agent i request’ – aside from the lack of punctuation, the lack of graciousness and understanding as to how agents operate is profound. Assuming that I’ll jump at the request is probably the worst part. Unfortunately the fact is that an unpublished author has little bargaining power on querying an agent, unless they have millions of fans on social media or are a celebrity.
  • Asking me to sell short stories – my Submissions page (at the time of this query) clearly stated that I do not represent fiction.
  • Asking me to sell THREE short stories – this person has no idea about the business of publishing, which is difficult to respect given the quantity of information available online. Submitting short stories to literary journals and magazines is the lonely work of the isolated writer who does the work in the hope of acceptance, and at a later time, of publication of a longer work. Perhaps a BOOK of short stories.
  • ‘I have given you undue authority to work on my behalf’. Well, thanks very much. Even if it was due.
  • ‘You can deduct your professional fee from the sales proceeds.’ Again, you’re too much. Thanks! I’ll be sure to spend the time and money to set up an account with Western Union in order to pay you your proceeds, which will come to exactly … nil. You must not be aware, sitting under a rock as you evidently do, that literary journals mostly pay nothing in cash. In any event, no one in their right mind mentions money in their initial piece of correspondence with anyone, on any topic … do they? Or have I missed some recent transformation in business etiquette?

Australian fiction in fine health, according to recent diagnosis

[F]irst novels that reshape familiar historical material with originality and dash; sustain their strange tales with assurance; move confidently between countries and eras, intimate and national histories; offer two more indications of the present and future health of Australian fiction.

From Peter Pierce’s insightful review of The Secret Son by my client Jenny Ackland, and of Leah Kaminsky’s The Waiting Room, in The Australian over the weekend.

A book party for Jenny Ackland’s THE SECRET SON

Here’s my client Jenny Ackland’s wrap-up of the launch of her novel The Secret Son a few days ago. It was a large crowd at the Bella Union in Melbourne. Jenny did a very smart thing by wearing a flaming red dress so everyone could see her. There are several photos including one of me reading out a message from Jenny’s publisher, who could not attend the event. She missed a great party, the only book launch I’ve ever attended that featured a belly dancer. Why? I urge you to read this wonderful novel and find out for yourself.

Jenny Ackland’s debut novel asks: Did Ned Kelly have a secret son who fought at Gallipoli?

Isn’t this a gorgeous cover?

The Secret Son explores the provocative idea that Australian bushranger Ned Kelly had a son James, who not only fought in Gallipoli, but stayed in Turkey and lived out his life in a remote mountain village. Cem, a troubled young Turkish-Australian man, comes to the village a century later to uncover his family’s past.

Jenny Ackland’s stunning debut novel is fresh on the shelves but already getting the attention it deserves, with this wonderful review on Readings’ website and a pithy piece in the Sydney Morning Herald that concludes:

Ackland effectively interweaves the past and the present as well as the voices that tell the story, James, Cem and the old Turkish woman, Berna, who links them. The Secret Son is infused with Ackland’s love of Turkey and its people. It is a powerful story of good and evil, and belonging.

Jenny lives in Melbourne but she lived in Turkey for a long time, and it’s her abiding love for the country and its people that makes for such a visceral reading experience.

I know that two men are coming up the mountain, at this moment, including the boy from far away. I wonder what my grandson’s face will look like. This is a boy in the skin of a man. I know the boy is innocent, that it’s his family soul which is guilty.

But wait, there’s more! Here’s the exhilarated author using a stack of her books as a pillow.

More about The Secret Son from its publisher, Allen & Unwin

Author Kellie Arrowsmith talks about editing her first book, SKIMPY

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After more than a year of communicating via telephone and email, it was great to meet my client Kellie Arrowsmith today in person in Sydney. She’s in town promoting her memoir SKIMPY, a fast-paced story of her adventures in the outback. (The title comes from her job as a barmaid in several Northern Territory bars, where the partially clothed bartenders are as much a part of NT culture as crocodiles.)

My dear old dad, who would be the first to admit he is not a great reader, describes the book as ‘hilarious’.

Here’s an interesting video for yet-to-be-published writers, in which Kellie describes her path to publication, which is littered with revised drafts. She also sings the praises of her agent, which was an unexpected bonus – for me, anyway.