by M.J. Hearle

I love holidays. Yeah, I know – who doesn’t? It’s great getting away from the daily grind, sleeping in late, eating too much, seeing new sights, and spending quality time with a loved one. Apart from this, I value holidays because they allow my imagination to breathe. Writing fiction takes up a lot of mental real estate. All those characters and plot threads need space, and unless you live alone in a cabin in the woods far from civilisation, with nothing but your writing to occupy yourself with, that space is usually limited. Job stuff, relationship stuff – life stuff – constantly jostles for attention.

Getting away for a break, even if it’s just for the weekend, opens this space up, and increases the possibility of inspiration striking. For example, I’ve been on holiday (in beautiful Byron Bay) for a few days now and I’ve already come up with an idea for a new novel, a potential movie concept, and a basic outline for a third ‘Winter’ story. Would these ideas have occurred to me if I was sitting at my desk at work? Maybe. But they probably wouldn’t have struck with the same amount of clarity. There wouldn’t have been enough space for them to take shape.

Byron Bay is about ten hours from Sydney, where I live. It’s a long drive in one stretch so naturally it made sense to break the journey up. I decided to use the opportunity to indulge in an unofficial Winter’s Shadow publicity tour. My first stop on the tour was Port Macquarie, my hometown, where thanks to my mum’s connections (she works at the school) I was able to speak to the year 6 class of St Joseph’s Primary. I wasn’t sure how interested twelve year olds would be in the writing process so I was pleasantly surprised to get some great and insightful questions. There were even a few budding authors which was lovely to see. I think it helped that I began my talk by discussing my first foray into creative writing when I was their age. This opus centered around a magical toilet which the kids found very intriguing. What I learnt from this positive reaction? Know  your audience.

The Year 6 Students of St Joseph's Primary School listen with wrapt attention as I discuss among other things my first experiments with creative writing and toilets

The next stop was at my old high school, St Joseph’s Regional. Karen Bale, the school’s fantastic librarian, had invited me to come and speak to some students and teachers about writing Winter’s Shadow and my path to publication. Again, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet some more budding authors, answer some great questions, and hopefully offer a little inspiration. You would think the more public speaking I do, the easier it gets, but you would be wrong. I’m still a nervous wreck before every engagement. The only difference is the fear is so familiar now I’m able to deal with it more effectively.

Me and the students of St Joseph's Regional High School who generously gave up their lunch to hear me blather on

After the schools, I spoke at my first book club, which was a welcome chance to talk frankly about writing the book to some of my mother’s friends. Speaking to students is enormously satisfying but there is always the pressure to be ‘M.J. the Author’. In other words, there’s pressure to speak with authority on a subject I still feel I don’t really know much about. I don’t think of myself as an author – I think of myself as a guy who loved stories and got lucky writing one that people liked. I certainly don’t consider myself a professional or qualified to shape young minds. When I’m put in a position where I have to give a talk or answer questions I always feel a little bit like an imposter.

Speaking to my mother’s friends was refreshing because I wasn’t M. J. the author – I was simple Michael, Cate’s son, who wrote a book. It was probably the most candid I’ve ever been in talking about Winter’s Shadow and for that reason it was probably the most relaxed talk I’ve ever given.

The lovely ladies of my mum's book club

Tomorrow, I’ll post some more pictures of the bookshops I visited on the way to Byron and my experiences meeting the booksellers.

Until then,

M. J.