PODCAST SHOW NOTES
Join hosts Veronica and Darren for a filled to 'the brink' episode featuring a deep and motivating interview with astounding author Holden Sheppard, as well as discussions about pen licenses, how persistance and tenacity can walk beside you on even the most difficult paths, the fine line between a good or bad lamington, and the importance of facing painful truths and turning them into stunning jewels...
Not only that but we have a wonderful book review by Naomi Shippen and a fascinating reading by author Lucy Christopher from her latest book Release, so settle back and hit play!
When did you first admit that you were a writer?
I started writing my first book when I was seven years old. It was like a male, Aussie version of Enid Blyton’s old boarding school stories, called “First Form at Clifton Towers” about a twelveyear-old boy named Jake. I’m pretty sure I wrote the first pages after school one arvo, then the
next day told my mates at school that I was a writer and I was writing a book. Bit bold, ay?
My early experiences of telling other people I was a writer, and wanted to get published, weren’t very positive – more like a boundary crossing. Some people were indifferent, some were excited by the idea – but sometimes too much so. Some wanted to tell me what to write, or influence it.
One strong-armed his way into physically illustrating a page in the book, and he did it, and it felt like a total violation, his drawing on my pages … the book was meant to be my thing. And my mother got this idea about me starting a publishing company “for kids, by kids” which was all
her, nothing to do with my wishes. She tried to influence me to want to do that and I was genuinely so horrified. None of this was what I wanted.
Writing was meant to be for me.
So, after initially announcing it, I went a bit underground. I kept writing but I kept it much more to myself. I’d talk about my other interests – maps, cars, Pokémon – but not writing. It was my space where I was free to be, and write, and say, anything I wanted – and protecting that was of
What was your favourite book as a child?
When I was very young, I loved a lot of Enid Blyton, especially The Magic Faraway Tree trilogy and the St Clare’s and Malory Towers boarding school novels. When I was more seven or eight – the age when I was writing myself – I started to read more Middle Grade stuff. In hindsight, it often had a crime or mystery or adventure element. I loved the Usborne Puzzle Adventure book series – my favourite was Danger at Demon’s Cove by Karen Dolby but I devoured almost all of them. I loved Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown books and Emily Rodda’s Teen Power Inc. series – I wanted to be Nick Kontellis from that series. I loved
Andy Griffiths’Just Annoying book and the sequels. I enjoyed Roald Dahl.
I find it hard to pick a favourite from all of these but I really loved C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia when I got a bit older, and my standout favourite of those wasThe Horse and His Boy. I still read it as an adult sometimes and it holds up well.
Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?
I write for me. Selfish, maybe, but writing is first and foremost something I do because it makes me happy and I feel expressed and I feel like myself when I write. That’s the main driver. Then when I put it into the world it becomes something for other people if they want to read it, enjoy it, relate to it. But I don’t write thinking about what an audience wants from me. I don’t think that would make for meaningful art, and in any case, it wouldn’t make me happy.
Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?
Yes, in that most of what I write is fiction but heavily influenced by elements of my own life, but I deliberately take the approach of not telling people which parts are which. I find it a comfortable
way to confess my deepest darkest shit to the world without having to exactly cop to it if I don’t want to – because I can always fall back on “but it’s fiction”.
Who is your most or least favourite character to write?
My favourite characters to write are the badly-behaved ones. In Invisible Boys, this was Hammer: I got to just let the cocky, arrogant side of myself be totally unleashed when I was writing in his voice, and I loved letting that thrive. It was a bit of a rush to be that much of a dick and know I could just get away with it: the pure ego was fun to inhabit. In The Brink, Mason is a bit like a nicer, dumber version of Hammer, not so arrogant or mean, but very sexual and full of testosterone, so I really enjoyed being in his hormone-fuelled head.
What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
I have had literally hundreds of messages and emails and verbal conversations with same-sex attracted men over the past three years. Most of these guys have said how much my writing has helped them feel seen and helped them process their own trauma from their teenage years, and that they wish these stories had existed when they were younger. That feedback means the world to me. I like that kind of response from anyone, but especially when it’s a gay man, and especially when it’s a gay man who’s a bit of a bogan or a country boy – the kind of homosexual men who live on the fringes of everything and often don’t feel seen.
What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?
Writing and editing my third book, which is a contemporary fiction novel aimed at adults – not YA this time. That’s pretty much it, though depending on what pace the Invisible Boys TV series moves at, I might also need to write an episode of that, which would be exciting and my first foray into screenwriting. Some time in 2023 I’ll probably need to start outlining my fourth novel – the sequel to Invisible Boys.
What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?
Start writing - now. Lots of budding writers - including myself - spend a really long time on planning and making notes but often being too scared to take the plunge and start writing.
You can spend years, even decades, making notes and planning, but you won't get any closer to your dreams of having a book published if you don't just start writing it. There's never a perfect time that a writer is 'ready' to start that first draft. Start now. Don't delay it.
And when you do start writing, give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft - let it be absolute horseshit - and this will free your headspace creatively. The first draft is you just shovelling the sand into the sand pit; the second draft is where you will build a proper
sandcastle. Or to paraphrase Stephen King's words, the first draft is the writer telling himself the story; the second draft is telling the story to the reader.
In terms of resources, join your local writer's centre - these are a great way to connect with the local writing scene and tap into a community of fellow writers. It's hard to get proper encouragement from non-writer friends and family - they don't always 'get' it. Fellow writers will understand the ups and downs and can offer helpful advice. You can
also find a strong writer's community on Twitter and other social media.
When you're ready, consider taking workshops or longer courses to hone your writing skills. And getting a manuscript appraisal or mentorship is a great way to help develop a full-length book draft.
I recently contributed my knowledge about writing and publishing to a book called How to be an Author: The Business of Being A Writer in Australia (Fremantle Press, 2021). It features insights from a wide range of published authors and the book's editors, Georgia Richter and Deborah Hunn. I strongly recommend it as a resource to aspiring and emerging writers.