Today, I’m delighted to bring you an interview with fabulous, dynamic author Hazel Edwards, talking about her new projects, especially her new book, Complete Your Book in a Year, which has come out of her very successful and popular writing workshops. Of course, due to the COVID19 situation, these in person workshops had to shift online, but nothing daunted, Hazel found ways of still engaging her audience, dubbing her approach ‘strategies for writing in a pandemic’.
Welcome, Hazel! Your unique how-to writing and publishing manual for family historians, Complete your Book in a Year, has just been published. Can you give us some background on how the book came about?
The Pandemic has given a sense of the need to act NOW on writing projects.
The inspirational ‘Hazelnuts’ and the Pandemic Lockdown of my f2f (face to face) writing workshops led to this manual.
The term ‘Hazelnuts’ was affectionately started by some of my former writing students who HAD been procrastinators. To qualify as a ‘Hazelnut’, you have been mentored in my courses, finished AND published your writing project. Across decades, it’s satisfying to see so many non-fiction books on diverse subjects gained from crafting and workshopping across a year.
Then came the pandemic postponement of face-to-face classes like monthly sessions at (Public Records Office) PRO’s Victorian Archives Centre. Apart from Zooming, a 12 part manual was an attempt to keep people writing to finish their book projects by December deadline.
During Lockdown, others de-cluttering became interested in writing memoirs, organising family memorabilia and evaluating their lives for their families and themselves. So there was a wider demand than my adult students.
Requests came for a manual of strategies to help with writing in Lockdown. So I converted my notes and ‘Your Turn’ exercises.
Telling the stories of ‘extra-ordinary-ordinary heroes’ is worthwhile. So are ‘How To…’ books. And then there is the mutual help Hazelnuts offer each other by reading drafts or attending launches. And the research skills from visiting archives, historic locations, interviewing via digital devices or sleuthing family secrets.
‘Complete a book in a year’ is quite a challenge to throw down to authors! Tell us about something how the book works and what it covers. How did you decide what to include in it?
Based on the strategies, activities and notes I’d normally share in my face to face workshops but MINUS the companionship of learning from others and their WIP (Work in Progress). Often workshoppers become ‘step-parents to another’s bookchild and help craft it. Or they suggest titles. And they work through the various drafts, reading aloud, celebrating and finding relevant resources to share. Working alone, writers miss that. So the personal and quirky tone of the manual is as if I’m sharing anecdotes and hints with the reader. Zooming, the students can also use the manual.
Mid-project I woke up with the idea of having a cover which was a compilation of Hazelnut covers. To inspire. The publisher suggested including a Schedule for the Year’s Writing Needed to Complete a Book. I wrote a realistic timetable and scared even myself. But it works based on averaging 200 words per day. And the timetable has been renamed ‘You Can Do It.’
Others can use the manual as a substitute for Hazelnut style workshopping in these surreal times.
There are twelve main segments which match the monthly workshops. Projects include memoir, autobiography, non-fiction, biography, fiction, graphic novels, young adult and children’s books.
What is the manual about?
Strategies to overcome ‘Procrastination’ and get your book finished.
Includes: Choosing titles, writing Conversational Table of Contents, ways to structure, characterisation (Your Turn exercises), Common Q and A, making it non-boring, use of anecdotes, mini launches and publication options.
The ‘Your Turn’ exercises are very practical.
Participants voted The Ancestor Interview (see below) as the most valuable exercise. But you’ll need an in-house or online ‘helper’ for this one.
Interview Your Ancestor (in pairs, 8 minutes each).
Become your selected ancestor and answer the interviewer’s questions as honestly as you can, even admitting to crimes. Use ‘I’ not ‘he’ or ‘she’ and get into the perspective of your character and their times.
You’ll also find out what you don’t know and need to research.
How does this book differ from your earlier popular title, Writing a Non-Boring Family History?
It’s for procrastinators, so they can finish in a year. Not all projects are histories or memoirs. More emphasis on the strategies to finish to deadline.
I deliberately didn’t repeat myself so the books could be complementary. Plus the Non-Boring one was written over 20 years ago and much reprinted, so it was time for an online approach. At first I was going to have an e-book only, but the publisher convinced me to have print too.
You’ve also got a great fiction project on the go, writing a podcast for the ABC. Can you tell us about it, and how it came about?
Adult mystery ‘Celebrant Sleuth; I do or Die’ (BookPod) 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. E and print book and then I ‘voiced’ the audio, a challenging experience for a non actor but 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. I knew it had the ingredients of an iconic train, literary tourism role-play of Agatha Christie and a diverse sleuth, but….
‘Hijabi Girl Plays Footy Too” is a sequel which may be a bindup around the time the ‘Hijabi Girl’ puppet musical is performed post-Pandemic by Larrikin Puppeteers and tours regionally. We even have an Aussie Rules football puppet.
I’d love more of my books to be adapted for TV, audio or theatre. And to be translated into languages like Spanish and Turkish.
The Lockdown has forced me to evaluate. Although traditionally published by Penguin, my ‘riskier’ projects have been author-published in recent years.
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.
Ironically in 2006 I wrote ‘Outback Ferals’ set in Darwin about a feral pig pandemic threat. Writers ask ‘What if?’ and then things happen. It’s called fiction prediction!
Free downloadable Schedule to Finish Your Book in a Year
More about Hazel and her work:
Hazel Edwards writes quirky, thought-provoking fiction and fact for adults and children. Coping successfully with being different is a common theme. Co-written ‘junior novel ‘Hijabi Girl’ soon to be a ‘Larrikin Puppets’ musical post Pandemic and YA novel ‘f2m;the boy within’ which has inspired a graphic novel , explore cultural diversity.
Best known for ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’ series, recently touring as a musical, Hazel has grandkids for whom she writes a story each birthday. ‘Outback Ferals’ her YA novel set in Darwin, is a sequel to ‘Antarctica’s Frozen Chosen’, researched during her 2001 Antarctic expedition.
Hazel runs book-linked workshops on ‘Authorpreneurship’ and ‘Writing a Non Boring Family History’. ‘Complete Your Book in a Year’ is a yearlong master class at PROV (Public Records Office) and all her mentored ‘Hazelnuts’ finish their projects.
’Trail Magic; Going Walkabout for 2184 Miles on the Appalachian Trail ’ with her son Trevelyan is an adventure memoir. He did ALL the walking.
A National Reading Ambassador, in 2013 Hazel was awarded an OAM for Literature. Her memoir ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake-Being an Author’ explores longterm creativity.
Interested in stories crossing mediums, ‘Celebrant Sleuth;I do or die’ an adult mystery with an asexual sleuth is her latest AUDIBLE fiction, plus the sequel ‘Wed Then Dead on The Ghan’ available on Kindle and being adapted as a screenplay for ABC.
Hazel served on the board of The Australian Society of Authors’ for 20 years and is the current patron of the Society of Women’s Writers (Victoria)
Husband Garnet does her BAS, daughter Kim advises on marketing and three grandsons act as readers, so writing is an Edwards’ family trade.
She also reads in the bath.