For Art’s Sake!

Thoughts about illustrating my stories

One of the many things that two years’ writing on Medium and Substack has gifted me as a writer is a delight in illustrating my stories.

My main interest is adult fiction (interspersed with quasi-factual meanderings like this one). In this field, the word is deemed sufficient. Illustrated stories are for kids — or for magazines. That’s the received wisdom, whether or not we choose to thumb our noses at it.

A lot of it was once simple economics, not any superiority of the printed word over the printed image. Until quite recently, illustrations used to be prohibitively costly to integrate with text. ‘Plates’ were literally etched plates. Full colour required four separate plates, four passes through the printing press, four times the expense of black-and-white. Even black-and-white photos needed to be printed on expensive coated paper and bound in discrete sections (signatures) of the book.

Digital printing technology has freed a lot of that up, but illustrations still add to cost, and fiction readers expect cheap books. Hardly any of the hundreds of novels on my shelves have illustrations integrated with the text.

So — publishing illustrated stories on Medium and Substack is a unique opportunity that I make the most of … in the certain knowledge that none of my illustrations will make it into the print editions I have planned for the last quarter of this year.

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The Kick Inside


A male writer’s fascination with female perspectives

Fiction writing is — in equal parts — imagination, empathy and transmogrification of lived experience.

The alchemy which turns my leaden autobiography into fictional gold (hopefully) is often a change of viewpoint. It’s the ‘What if?’ which sparks the narrative from the inciting incident.

Very often, I find myself wanting to write fiction from a female perspective. I’ve been told, by female readers whose opinion I value, that I’m good at it. About seventy per cent of my regular readers are female, so I guess I can’t be too lousy.

That’s gratifying praise, but I would be sad if it were unusual. Why should biological sex be a barrier to empathy or imagination? A man who cannot step outside his own ego to consider what a woman might desire in a lover, what she might hope for or fear in life, her insecurities, passions and preoccupations, is a sad specimen of humanity.

We consider it unremarkable that a female author might write a male protagonist well. The converse should also apply. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of study material, in terms of literature by female writers, and — shock! horror! — real live women to converse with.

A teen obsession

One of the great passions of my teenage years — that turbulent time of consuming and confusing passions — was the music of Kate Bush.

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In search of … what, exactly?

Why do we tell the stories that we tell?

On the occasion of my wife’s birthday, we’re in Melbourne for the week. For the first time since COVID hit our shores, we find ourselves in the CBD with time on our hands.

Suze likes to spend hours poking around markets; I’d sooner stick wasps up my arse, frankly. Luckily, we’re accustomed to giving each other space to do our own thing, rather than approaching every outing as a joint activity.

Fear not: we also have a shared calendar of events with multiple highlights and points of interest and time spent with friends – those who haven’t contracted COVID in the last couple of days. I’m not leaving the poor woman entirely to her own devices on the august occasion of reaching three-score years and ten.

So anyway, this morning, Suze was buying music-themed socks at the Vicky Market (hey, it’s her birthday) and trying to work out the location and name of that pub she went to with the girls that one time that sells Belgian cherry beer: an absorbing task for a woman with scant sense of direction and a love of Kriek.

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Telling Tall Tales … and Tiny Ones

Launching a Substack storyletter — progress and plans

I decided towards the end of last year that I was going to launch a fiction newsletter on the Substack platform. Tall and Tiny Tales went live on 1 February.

Substack seems to be rather the flavour of the month, although evaluations differ, and some, if I may say so, miss the point entirely. Substack isn’t really a community like Medium. It’s primarily a publishing platform. Your potential readership isn’t other Substackers: it’s anyone who likes to read your genre online. (Truly: forget about other Substackers. Stats on them are irrelevant.) The snag is: you have to do all the publicity for your publication yourself. No friendly algorithms are going to carry your word to the masses.

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Imposter!

Dealing with feelings of inadequacy

It’s just 10 hours before my new storyletter Tall and Tiny Tales goes live with its first episode and podcast.

I think I’ve done my groundwork well: it’s a good concept well-executed, with some strong material … I think. My attempts at promotion have been moderately successful: I have over 60 subscribers on board. That’s not a bad start!

But what if it’s crap?

Will I see my subscribers desert in droves?

Who am I to think that I can reinvent myself as a fiction writer anyway?

Am I making a fool of myself?

Similar thoughts are often at the back of my mind when I try to do something that I haven’t done before.

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Learning by Doing

Baby steps in self-promotion

Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to me. I am, after all, British by birth, and my natural inclination is to mumble disparagingly about my accomplishments.

‘I … err … write the odd short story from time to time … Nothing much, and you probably wouldn’t be interested … but if one day you don’t have anything better to do, then maybe … ?’

This is a recipe for not getting read until I am dead. In my obituary I will be hailed as a literary genius and riches will be showered on my bemused heirs. Heirs, I might add, who never showed the faintest interest in a darned thing I wrote …

Meanwhile, in the real world: I’m not a literary genius, but I am a half-decent teller of short stories (laying British modesty aside), and it is something that I enjoy doing.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I enjoy it more, though, if someone actually reads my stuff. If they’re not my wife or my mum and I haven’t had to employ emotional blackmail – bonus points!

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The Power of a Change of Place

It has happened again. A couple of days away in our campervan, and I’ve come back with a new tale to tell.

It is not something that actually happened – thankfully – but it was definitely inspired by the place we stayed and what we experienced there. It is a unique tale, then, which would not have been conceived anywhere else.

You’ll have to wait a while to read ‘Badger Hill’, as I’ve submitted it for a competition with my local writers’ group and don’t want to disqualify my entry through conflicting ideas about what constitutes ‘prior publication’.

It’s a little darker than most of my output, although it starts off innocuously enough. A woman receives a minor injury at the end of the first stage of a multi-day hike. At least the campground is idyllic …

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Getting Read

My output of stories has been prolific over the past months. Clearly, a world-record series of lockdowns here in Victoria has been good for something!

However, ‘Write it and they will come’ isn’t proving to be a sensible way of getting my writing to readers.

I ruefully recognise that I only started reading some of my favourite contemporary authors after an obituary in the media. That’s a little long-term for this writer. I’d rather be read alive than dead.

So, how to get eyes on pages?

Here are some thoughts:

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Read All About It!

My fiction on coriobay.blog

Writing fiction is my favourite creative outlet right now. Although I’ve been a professional writer for many years, I’ve only recently started writing stories for my own and others’ entertainment. I wish I’d started sooner, because it’s a lot of fun!

I’m even kicking around the idea of getting together a collection of short stories for formal publication as an anthology. It will have to wait until I’m less busy with the ‘day job’, so probably next year, but it’s something I’d love to do.

I’m slightly daunted by the inevitable but complex question: to self-publish or to seek an agent and a conventional publisher?

In the meantime, while I’m figuring this out, you can find a selection of my stories for free, here on this site. Please have a read and leave a comment.

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Making Sense of Medium

A Medium Noob’s First Faltering Steps

Some background

Writing for fun may seem a ‘busman’s holiday’ for a professional writer. In fact, I’m finding it refreshing – and educational. Which may be ironic, as I’m an educational writer.

In my ‘day job’, I write English coursebooks for 14–19-year-old Austrians and Germans. These are bright kids, interested in the world, and creating content for them gives me occasional scope for literary self-expression. More often it allows me to explore ideas in an essayistic (if that’s even a word) or journalistic manner.

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