Hazel Edwards & lockdown writing

At a time when it’s not that easy to take a writing course, a new book from Australian author Hazel Edwards is here to help guide you through writing a book from start to finish.

Have you ever wanted to write a book but, after the first flash of an idea you don’t know where to start or after typing out the first few pages how to keep going?

Hazel Edwards writes quirky, thought-provoking fiction, memoir and is best known for There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake series and has also written adult and young adult fiction along with non-fiction books on the business of being a writer and creativity.

Hazel runs book-linked workshops on ‘authorpreneurship’, how authors need to manage their creative lives with an entrepreneurial approach, and writing non-boring family history. Complete Your Book in a Year is a yearlong master class run with the Public Records Office.

The Broad spoke to Hazel Edwards about why she wrote this book now. “Often the best creative problem solving occurs as a result of something going wrong. Pandemics are beyond our control, but how we act in them is our choice,” Edwards said.

When lockdown hit, the monthly sessions stopped too. And several attempts at virtual teaching, which required getting up to speed on many different platforms, revealed that the best approach was going to be be a creating a kind of manual to a year-long writing project.

How did you find the shift to virtual teaching?

I’ve been forced into a rapid digital apprenticeship. Although I’d always used Skype for interstate or overseas author interviews, Zoom and Jitsi were new. Teaching I enjoy, but online how-to-write classes are not as personal and every resource such as a sample diagram has to be organised to activate it at the right moment.

Reluctantly, I started on my apprenticeship: lighting, YouTube tutorials, makeup, organising what showed on camera. My husband’s military history books featuring Hitler, Churchill and Stalin were not the best backdrop in our shared study for Zooming on writing children’s picture books like Hippopotamus.

During the lockdown stages, people decluttered photos and wrote to capture memorable aspects of their lives. They were sorting what was valuable to determine how they’d live, post-pandemic and what to pass onto family. Others had significant non-fiction projects they wanted to complete during the enforced isolation when travelling was impossible. A few wanted to finish ‘that novel’. All procrastinated, as you do.

So I wrote what I considered a manual, in two months. It gave me a sense of purpose that I was helping others, but it was also topical. An e-book was planned for speed of reaching those who wanted it, but publisher BookPod suggested print too. And that’s turned out to be very popular.

Can you tell us about embracing writing about diverse characters?

My adult mystery Celebrant Sleuth; I do or Die was inspired by a diverse gender woman who said ‘How come nobody writes about a woman like me? Why don’t you?’ I’d been playing with the concept of a celebrant who conducted weddings and funerals, for a mystery series, so I did.

She acted as my expert reader. I changed the terms she suggested. Chapters were written with future TV episodes in mind. There is an ebook and print book and then I ‘voiced’ the audio, a challenging experience for a non-actor, but it’s important to have an Australian voice on Audible.

Then I wrote Wed, then Dead on The Ghan intending it as the first chapter of the sequel, but now Geoffrey Wright and I have been commissioned to adapt it for the ABC as a podcast.

How hard is it for writers to make a living from their work?

Very. I regard myself as a solo business (of one) in the small business of big ideas. I’ve always had a home office for time saving, cost and to coordinate around family. But intellectual property should be valued and I have a scale of charges. My charitable acts are my choice and private. It’s annoying when corporates expect you to donate time and books or speak without a fee, when they credit that to their corporate community service.

For 20 years I served on the board of the Australian Society of Authors to give back to other creators. Issues such as digital rights payments for creators is the next big challenge, PLR and ELR are vital to creators as recompense for multiple uses of their work from libraries, but the pandemic copyright free use of ebooks and audio has shown the future is digital. Readers and audiences are expecting ‘free’ content. So are pirates. If intellectual property creators can no longer make a living, they will stop creating. Culturally and financially investing in creators’ intellectual property is more important than real estate.

The administration of being an author has increased with BAS, rights, reprints, fan mail, collaboration. I used to spend about 50% of my time on original work, 30% on author speaking and 20% on administration. Now it’s about 10% original writing. And the rest is writerly business which may include ‘pitching’ concepts.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently I’m co-writing with Geoffrey Wright, the commissioned podcast script adaptation of my book Wed, Then Dead on The Ghan for the ABC. My celebrant sleuth Quinn is of diverse gender, it’s an Agatha Christie parody of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ on Australia’s iconic Ghan.

The lockdown has forced me to evaluate. Although traditionally published by Penguin, my ‘riskier’ projects have been author-published in recent years. The three projects on which I’ve worked during the pandemic have all had earlier knock backs and despite vanishing markets and distribution, I persisted with these ‘soul’ projects (of value for themselves and ironically later commercially viable). It has been the right decision. I also control the rights which enables faster decisions when new media offers are available.

Is it harder for women to become successful writers?

Yes, it is harder. I was first published at 27. Had my first book and first baby in same year, but I’ve always regarded myself as a professional, self-employed author co-ordinating my writing workshops with my book titles like Complete Your Book in a Year or Authorpreneurship. Initially I wrote for the educational market where my teaching experience was relevant. Now I choose subject matter or collaborators carefully.

Recently I was asked if I had hobbies to do at the weekend. ‘No.’ As a writer I tend to work 7 days. I simply change the pace and type of work. And the subject matter changes, so I continue to have new experiences. And at an age when many are retiring, I’m still involved in stimulating projects.

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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