I'll be making my first (post-publication) festival appearance next month at the Perth Writers' Festival. There are many reasons why this is a wonderful thing. For one, I'm looking forward to have an excuse to pop back to Perth in the height of summer. It's been years since I was there for hot weather, so I'll be making the most of Cottesloe Beach. Actually, I may need to buy bathers.
Blue waters aside, I'm excited (and nervous) at the thought of sitting on the other side of the desk at various panels. I've done this a few times before, but that was before I had an actual book to promote or defend or dissect. It doesn't help that there are many highly-regarded authors also appearing at the festival. (Margaret Atwood! China Mieville! Kate Grenville!) I will be trying my best not to look like an impostor. But then, as it's a writers' festival, I kind of figure everyone else will be doing the same thing.
I'm doing four sessions, not all of which have been announced. You can read about two of them here:
I'm also one of the authors chosen by Melbourne's Centre for Youth Literature for this year's Reading Matters program. This is very exciting, even if it doesn't mean a swim. I'll be joining some very talented folk, some of whom have been announced at the link below. If you're in Melbourne and are interested in Young Adult fiction, I recommend you come along.
In other news, I recently finished recording an audiobook version of Fire In The Sea for Vision Australia. At this stage, it will only be available to their members, sorry. It was a strange process, reading something that couldn't be changed or edited. I rarely read my stuff once it's seen print and now I kind of remember why. For the most part, however, it was a lot of fun bringing the characters to life. It reminded me that I've missed podcasting. Maybe it's time to go back. Once I've finished the sequel.
Finally, I became a father for the first time nine weeks ago. So far so good. Although I'm sure I used to have more time to write.
I've been busy with baby things, after the arrival of my daughter at the end of November, but I did manage to find time to complete a video interview for book review blog A Book With A View. You can watch Part 1 (of 3) below.
They passed one of the abandoned lighthouses on its rocky spit, where a faded sign welcomed sailors. And then the harbour was gone and they were in open sea.
The sign at the mouth of Fremantle harbour isn't quite as I remembered. It is no longer faded and no longer mentions sailors. Perhaps its updating reveals a new sense of professionalism in a city gripped by a mining boom. When I was growing up in Perth, our one claim to fame was that astronaut John Glenn once saw us from space. Everyone had left their lights on for the occasion and the electric sizzle stood out against all the empty darkness that surrounds one of the world's most isolated capital cities. For decades after that, we called ourselves the city of lights.
Although it's isolated from everywhere else, Perth is actually two cities. Its twin, Fremantle, is the prettier half. Perth is all concrete and modern, with glass towers and open shopping malls; Fremantle has older, more genteel buildings and is a knot of high streets and cafes. It's main feature is the harbour. At the harbour, the Swan River meets the sea. Vast ships unload new cars and mining equipment, while floating cages spirit away scared and stinking sheep.
Yet, despite all this industry, much of the harbour always feels oddly quiet. In the heat of the day, when there's no shade to be found anywhere, some of the quays are more or less abandoned. Which makes them the perfect place to set the sudden, violent sequence where Sadie first meets the villainous Drowners.
1. The Harbour
Three figures shot up from the harbour depths. They rose ten metres in the air, trailing saltwater, and then dropped onto the wharf. Their hair was knotted and foul and their faces warped and discoloured. They wore tight-fitting, tarnished armour: chain-mail vests stained with verdigris and heavy bracelets on bony wrists. Helmets masked their eyes and exaggerated their brows into curled horns. One carried a double-bladed axe, one had a sword strung from his rotting leather belt, and the last gripped a trident.
This is the patch of bitumen on which Sadie and Jake first encounter the Drowners. It's at the very end of the docks, close to the open sea and the new(ish) maritime museum, just out of the way enough to ensure nobody will be running to the rescue.
It's a place I've kept returning to, over the years. I fell in love with the idea of travel at a very young age, so was always excited seeing all these ships arriving and departing to places I couldn't imagine. This place truly felt like the edge of the world. And there is romance in a ship that an aeroplane lacks. One day, I was going to board one of these vessels and disappear over the horizon. Of course, I never did. By the time I was old enough to go anywhere, the only people who travelled by sea were well-off retirees. The furthest I went by sea was Rottnest Island, a narrow strip of sand and shrub about 25 minutes' voyage from Fremantle.
I think my love of the sea is probably pretty evident in Fire in the Sea. It's in the title, after all. I spent most of my childhood around it, in it, or bouncing across it in friends' boats. The sea has possibilities, romance and, most importantly, deep and dark secrets.
The toes of her boots were on the raised wooden edge of the pier. She stared down at the dark green water. Low waves washed against the barnacled timber posts. Sun glittered irresistibily.
It's a drop of a couple of metres from the pier to the water and, frankly, it's not the sort of water anybody should go swimming in. It's deep and dirty and currents are likely to pull you out to sea or under a boat. If you go in, you're not getting out easily.
People used to come and fish here, long into the early hours of the morning. One Esky for the fish, another for the beer. A small radio playing classic hits. Something by Cold Chisel, maybe.
If you're sailing up the river, out to the sea, then you'll emerge from the harbour at the left of this picture. The dock where the fight scene takes place is between the two tall buildings that can be seen around there. To get to this point by car (this was taken on the rocky spit that features the red lighthouse) is a little more difficult, as you need to go right out of Fremantle, across the river and then drive through a labyrinthine industrial wasteland. Still, it's a nice view when you get there.
Tom and Sadie sail through this scene, from left to right, towards the end of the book. It's a journey I've made myself on several occasions and it's always quite exciting when your boat suddenly hits the swell and surge of the ocean.
The view from the end of the spit, with the lighthouse and welcome sign at your back, looks like this. There are always container ships lurking on the horizon, waiting for a space at port. Somewhere in the water out there, Sadie's destiny is waiting.
Here is another picture of the lighthouse. For no other reason than I like lighthouses. It was my dream to one day live in one. (Not this one, it's too small.) Now that I'm older, I'm not sure I like the thought of all those stairs.
2. Frobisher's office
Jake had stopped, peering up at a dusty sign above a warped, flaking door. The Law Offices of Horace Frobisher, it read, First Floor. Jake went up, three stairs at a time, threw open the frosted door that topped them and called for the lawyer.
High Street is now a little less rundown than I describe it in the book, mainly because a university has bought up so much of it. But there are still plenty of little shops, some more temporary than others, and little patches of scruffiness. I was very pleased to see that Frobisher's office is still waiting to be poshed up.
Well, actually, Frobisher's door is a little scruffier than I had imagined. Perhaps he's gone away?
This place was actually a flat where my best friend's dad lived after a messy separation. I came here when I was about ten, I think. It was probably the first bachelor pad I'd been in and certainly the first flat above a shop. Imagine living above a shop, I thought! How exciting. It's stuck in my mind ever since.
This is the side view of the flat, from a different street around the corner. The first floor windows belong (or belonged) to Frobisher. On the other side of the flat, there's a dirt carpark, which Jake drops down into when he runs off. Those crumpled gates are currently blocking his exit to the street.
Next door to Frobisher's building, back on High Street, is this mysterious club. Is that a Minotaur above the door? Coincidence? Yes.
Actually, I wish I'd remembered this when I was writing the book. I could have had a lot of fun with the Buffalo Club.
A little further up High Street (not directly across the road, as in the book) is this army surplus store. You can see here the shade from which Sadie is watched by a mysterious figure in an overcoat. He wasn't there when we stopped by.
From here, it's a short walk (as Sadie discovers, to her peril) back to the harbour.
FIRE IN THE SEA has been in the shops a few weeks now, but the official launch has been announced for September 6. Why is the launch after the release of the book? There are some very good reasons for that. Right now, I can't remember exactly what they are.
All are welcome to attend. Simply RSVP to the address on the invite and we'll reserve space for you. It should be great fun!
Today is the big day: Fire In The Sea is now in shops all across Australia. I'm very excited about seeing it on shelves and equally thrilled (and terrified) that real people will soon have a chance to read it. I'll write more about this later in the week, but for now, here's a bit of a catch up.
Praise for Fire in the Sea:
‘Fire In the Sea is an awesome scary/funny/actiony/gory combo of myth and modern day Perth. I do like a bit of ancient evil!' Leanne Hall, author of This Is Shyness
‘Bartlett has created an exciting alternative world of gods and demons, but it is Sadie with whom the reader engages and who makes Fire In the Sea so credible.' The Age
‘At times violent, funny, clever and bizarre, Fire In the Sea is unique and brilliant.' ArtsHub
‘Imagine John Marsden and Suzanne Collins co-wrote a Narnian story. That’s the closest approximation I can make for the entirely unique story, tone, and feel of Fire in the Sea…It’s been too long since I was excited about a debut book. It’s been too long since there was a strong, new, male voice in the Australian YA scene. It’s been too long since I felt confident in recommending a book to an older teen (particularly male) audience. Thank you, Myke Bartlett and Text Publishing.’ SLV Centre for Youth Literature blog
‘It’s fast paced and exciting, violent at times but emotionally rich and interesting at others…A timely reminder that sometimes when stepping out of your comfort zone you get a rewarding surprise.’ Fairfieldbooks On Kids blog
‘I really shouldn’t be so surprised that another Text Prize novel is incredible, but I am. ‘Fire in the Sea’ is a fantastic new addition to the Aussie young adult paranormal scene – set in the beautiful (if lamentably dull) city of Perth, and featuring everything from sea sirens to crazy reincarnated boys. Myke Bartlett has written a parade of paranormal creatures and a thrilling sea-depths mystery … I, for one, hope that this is just the first of many more novels from an interesting new Aussie YA voice. 5/5’ Alpha Reader blog
‘A thrilling adventure with a Katniss Everdeen-style heroine…this is one showdown you won’t forget in a hurry!’ Dolly Magazine
‘Fire in the Sea is a fantastic, action-packed adventure, blending the Australian setting of Perth with ancient mythology – definitely a book to check out if you’re a fan of Australian YA or paranormal stories.’ Vegan YA Nerds
‘Part romance, part fantasy and part adventure, the story races along.’ Magpies
A few lucky people have already thumbed a copy and have kindly shared their thoughts. So far, the reviews have been wonderful. Here's a full list to date: (I've marked those that are a bit spoilery.)
There are a few other reviews over at the Good Reads page. I encourage you to sign up (you can use your Facebook log in) and let us know what you think!
Buying the book
If you're wanting to get your hands on a copy, here are a few possibilities:
Your local bookstore. Support your friendly neighbourhood bookseller. (Readings, Gleebooks, Collins, New Edition, Dymocks). They should be able to easily get in a copy if they don't already have one. (But why don't they already have one?)
Text Publishing website. Shipping is free and quick, I'm told. eBook available.
Your local bookstore. Really, support your local bookseller. That way they might get in more copies, which means browsers will be able to stumble across them.
Readings Books. Shipping is free. (They also have real, brick and mortar stores.) eBook available.
I'll update the list if I find others that I've missed.
At this stage, word of mouth is crucial to the book's success. If you enjoy the book, please let others know. Buy it as a birthday present. For several birthday presents. For Christmas presents. Instead of Easter Eggs.
If you've found yourself a copy, send me a pic! I'd love to put together a gallery.
In celebration of the great author Ray Bradbury's life, Dumbo Feather have made available a tribute I wrote for them last year (Issue 29). You read it at the link below. Bradbury has been a great inspiration to me, if not a direct influence. His book Something Wicked This Way Comes was a revelation to me. I didn't know words could create something so magical, so tactile, so fantastic and so true. His advice about writing is probably all the advice a writer every needs: "if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Every day. Whether you feel like it or not."
He’s most often described as a science fiction writer, but it’s a label that seems to miss the point. As Bradbury himself has said, there’s little science to his storytelling. His stories peel back the prosaic to reveal an improbable, extraordinary world; one we always hoped might exist, somewhere in the periphery. This is what a magician does, after all; they trick us into believing the impossible is real.
Yesterday I took part in a panel, alongside some very talented folk, to speak about my experiences building a audience. I was supposed to speak for five minutes. In the end, I spoke for 10 and still ran out of time. There's probably a lesson here about timing yourself beforehand, but I'm choosing to ignore it. An adapted version of my speech can be found below:
This is the story of how I built an audience and found a publishing deal. Or, more accurately, it’s the story of how I failed to build an audience but still found a publishing deal.
I always used to think that writing was like sitting in a dark room, talking to yourself. I was wrong.
Writing is a conversation, where you have to work very hard to hear your audience.
Like most writers, I suspect, I started writing because life let me down. When I was younger, I was bored and restless; when I was older, I was disappointed and miserable. Writing was escape.
I never asked myself the crucial question: who would want to read any of this? (To me, the answer was obvious: everyone.) I thought, write what I want to and I’d see the fans roll in.
Perhaps oddly, I never sent my work off to publishers or agents. I was more interested in finding a shortcut that would allow me to connect with an audience. There were two reasons for this. One, cowardice — I was terrified of letting anyone qualified get anywhere near my manuscript. Two, arrogance — I was convinced my work was good enough to win an audience if I could just get them exposed to it.
To me, technology seemed like the shortcut I was looking for.
In 2002, I went looking for my audience. I didn’t really know what I had to offer them, but I was sure they’d like it. I was writing a book, so decided I’d put it up online — on a website I’d set up — at the rate of one chapter a week.
It was a case if, I wrote it, they would come.
And come they did. All three of them.
I didn’t get a publishing deal.
In 2005, I tried again. This time, blogs were everywhere, so I started blogging a book. People — at least a dozen of them — began reading it. Some left comments. For the first time, writing became a genuine conversation. Not a terribly balanced one, perhaps. I was still doing most of the talking. But I began understanding a couple of things — who my audience were and what they wanted (from my writing and from me as a writer.)
I didn’t get a publishing deal.
One year later, I started a new conversation. This new book would be written at about a chapter a week, and then I’d record a reading of it and upload it to the web as a podcast. The book would be hosted at Podiobooks.com, a new site set up to create a community of podcasting authors.
There was something about the nature of podcasting — essentially, reading a book to strangers, that encouraged backchat. People told me which bits they liked, which bits they didn’t, with an astonishing frankness. Being more interested in applause than artistic integrity, I tried to make sure I put in more of the bits they liked as I went along. That seemed to work. The audience grew as the book progressed. Instead of ten listeners, I soon had ten thousand. The finished result was, in some ways, the work of a committee. It looked very different to the book it might have been if I was still just talking to myself. I have no doubt it was better for that.
What I discovered, however, was that maintaining a conversation takes at least as much work as making sure you’ve got something to talk about. There are blog posts to write, emails to respond to, tweets to compose. Because the internet isn’t a library, it’s a shouting match, where the loudest, the most enthusiastic and the most consistent win the game.
I’m not built for that kind of conversation. I can’t stand here and tell you how great I am. (Even with notes.) And I’m kind of lazy. And, you know, I’d rather be spending that time actually writing. I loved the communication and the discussion, if not the rallying of troops. I loved getting to know my audience — and getting to understand how and why they connected with my work.
If I'm honest, the book (How to Disappear Completely) was aimed at an audience I assumed would be a bit, well… geeky. (Much like myself.) It was an urban fantasy adventure tale, which wasn’t exactly the florid, character-led high literature I’d imagined myself writing. As it turned out, I enjoyed writing that sort of story so much that I’ve stuck with it ever since. Essentially, my audience led me to my genre, rather than the other way around.
In the process of podcasting, I learned a few lessons. Most of them, I ignored.
Play to your nerds. This was the best advice given to me when I started a brief teaching career. Care for the people who care. Reply to emails. Follow back. People are looking for good things. But they also want reassurance that they are onto a good thing.
Get over yourself. Don’t be self-deprecating. It confuses people. People want you to tell them that you’re awesome, that your writing is awesome. That they’re not wasting their time.
Cross promotion. Get in touch with authors who are doing the same thing. Retweet. Lavish praise (if it’s deserved). Chances are their readers are looking for something similar.
Recommend things you like. You’re creating a context for your own work. This beds in your work and also (hopefully) helps the reader feel closer to you.
Stay present. Blog. Tweet. Podcast. (This where all those recommendations and musing on similar things that you like come in). It doesn’t take long to disappear. There’s no point having a website if you’re not putting something new on it at least once a week. (I’m looking hard at myself here.)
I should point out that none of this got me a publishing deal.
What it did was make me listen harder for an audience. And to think about an audience before I put fingers to keyboard.
This all coalesced when I was handed a poster promoting the Text Prize (at the 2010 Emerging Writers’ Festival, fact fans). It was a gift. The book that became Fire in the Sea was the first thing I’d ever written where I could already hear the other side of that conversation. As a result, I knew how to make the book work and I knew that it would work. I wasn’t writing for me. The audience came first.
I'm very excited to be taking part in this year's Emerging Writers' Festival. It'll be the third year running I've been involved in some capacity. It's a great annual event for Melbourne writers, packed with workshops and talks and, yes, a fair amount of collegiate drinking. Given the isolation involved in being a writer, it's always wonderful to have an excuse to meet up with your rivals comrades.
From the festival website:
The Emerging Writers’ Festival is an independent arts organisation based in Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. We exist in order to promote the interests of emerging writers – to improve their opportunities for professional development as well as their engagement with the broader public.
Each year the Emerging Writers’ Festival brings writers, editors, publishers and literary performers together with the reading public for a festival that is fast becoming an essential part of Australia’s literary calendar.
This year, I'll be talking about:
Building an Audience, Sunday 3pm It’s been said before – publishers love writers with a pre-existing platform. But what is that, and how do you go about creating one while remaining true to artistic integrity? Our panellists share their tips and tricks on how to build an audience. With Myke Bartlett, Sarah Howell, Katie Keys and Andrew Nette. Hosted by Writers’ Web