UQP Writer's Room: Mirandi Riwoe
Welcome to our new blog series, the UQP Writer's Room, in which we ask authors to share their writing habits, top tips and insights into the world of publishing.
Why did you start writing?
I have always loved books and greatly admired authors. I was probably nine or ten years old when I tried to write my first Nancy Drew type novel. But it wasn’t until I had small children and mentioned a novel I’d like to write one day, that my mum took me aside and told me to not just talk about it, but to get started. It was the very best advice. Writing is a craft, which takes time to hone, so I’m glad I didn’t start any later.
How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?
At first, I tried my hand at crime fiction. I love reading crime fiction, especially British crime fiction, and I think, as a writer, it was appealing that I could work with a clear plot, with certain rules and tropes. With time, though, I’ve become more comfortable writing literary fiction, whether it be short fiction, novellas or novels. I’m still trying to think of that block-buster thriller I can write, though!
Where was your inspiration for your latest work?
I am part Chinese myself, so I’ve always had an interest in writing culturally diverse stories. My crime fiction is set in Victorian London and features a Eurasian protagonist. For this series, I had to research the Asian population of London in the 1800s, which made me wonder about the first Chinese in Australia. Also, I have met a couple of people who seem very ‘Aussie’ – white Australian – yet, it turns out that they each have a Chinese ancestor from way back in the past, here in Australia. I think in one case, the love affair was hidden away, and in the other case, it was accepted. It makes me wonder how these couples met, how their relationships progressed, and if terrible heartache was involved. So, originally, I wanted to explore this kind of coming-together of cultures in Stone Sky Gold Mountain.
How do you get started with a new project?
As my next two books will be partially historical fiction, I will definitely have to begin with a lot of reading and research. I find I need months of soaking in the information and setting before I can start to write.
Do you have a routine? What tools do you use?
When I am writing a novel, I stick to writing every day, even on the weekend, and I don’t leave the computer until I’ve written 500 words. Usually I write in my study at my desk, and I prefer as little distraction as possible – although there is a lot of procrastination before I actually settle to write. I also have a couple of whiteboards on my walls that I work from. I find them handy to jot down ideas, or map out where I’m going in my story.
When I am writing a novel, I stick to writing every day, even on the weekend, and I don’t leave the computer until I’ve written 500 words.
How do you handle writer’s block?
Writer’s block can be difficult, if you really don’t have any ideas to work with. But if I’ve started work on a novel, usually I have mapped out where I want my novel to go. Sometimes it’s good to know what the last line or last section might be, just to work towards it. I think it’s Hemingway who advised to never finish a section – leave some for the next day to get started on. I think this is excellent advice! It means that the next morning you know exactly where to get started, which helps keep momentum up.
How important is research in the writing you do?
As I mostly write historical fiction, I find research to be immensely important to my process. For my first novel, set in Victorian London, I spent a year reading historical texts, novels written in the period and contemporary novels that are set in the past. I will also read works to do with psychology, ideology or politics, in order to inform how I build characters or setting. Obviously, most of what is read in this research period doesn’t make it into the story, but I find it important to at least know as much as I can about the context of my book.
How much planning is required when it comes to structuring one of your books?
I usually know what direction I am moving towards when I start a novel. Over the research period, I take reams of notes, but also jot down ideas that come to me, which I then collate when I feel I’m ready to write. I might even plan out the book on one of my white boards, but this plan isn’t set in stone – things can change as I write. That’s why a white board is good – I can rub ideas out and rearrange, but still see the full picture. My whiteboard is full of arrows and colours (and scribble I can no longer read).
What’s the editing process like?
The editing process can be challenging for two reasons. First, you’ve worked on the novel for so long, you really don’t want to revisit it, let alone work on it again. Second, you might have to lose or change some of the work that you love, but nobody else does. I think it’s good practice to be in a writers’ group that can help you become tougher at taking criticism and advice.
However, I always know that the editing process makes the novel better. I would not want my novel going out into the world without a rigorous editing.
How did you come to be published?
I wrote my first published crime novel as part of a PhD in creative writing and literary studies. Towards the end of my studies, I entered an earlier work into a competition with Legend Press in the UK. My novel was shortlisted and, although it didn’t win, I had established contact with Legend Press’s lovely commissioning editor, so I could pitch my newer novel to her. Luckily, a few weeks later she came back to me with a publication deal.
What is your number one tip for aspiring writers?
Persevere!! I would never ever have imagined I could be so dogged, until I put my mind to being an author.
Plotter or pantser? Plotter
Tea or coffee? Tea
When I’m not writing I’m… reading
My favourite place to read is… the couch or bed
Ebook or physical book? Physical, because I like owning the book. However, I think ebook is easier to read from (now that I’m old and my eyesight is worse!!)