Helen Scheuerer has just received the exciting news that her debut novel will be published later this year by Inkerman & Blunt. Her book is about an Australian photographer sent on a mission to promote an organisation saving and re-habilitating child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Scheuerer is also the founding editor of the Writer’s Edit, an online literary magazine and small press dedicated to writers and book lovers. We sit down for a chat to learn more about Helen and the Writer’s Edit.
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m a creative writer, editor and the founder of Writer’s Edit. I grew up in Sydney, and have loved reading and writing from an early age. I’m pretty sure the first ‘book’ I wrote was when I was seven. It was about a clown in a circus who had oranges thrown at him by the crowd (heavy stuff!).
Why did you start Writer’s Edit?
I started Writer’s Edit in 2013 as a way of publishing advice and firsthand experiences with the writing industry, while I was working on my first novel. I felt a little lost without my university writing and workshopping friends, so I also set out to create a supportive space for like-minded people.
The ultimate goal was always to become a small press, and not even a year after we launched the website, we did just that – publishing our first book Kindling in 2014.
To date we’ve published two creative writing anthologies full of short stories, poetry, creative non-fiction and writing advice – Kindling Volume I and Kindling Volume II, with the third and final volume due for release in November 2016.
After the Kindling series is finished, we hope to move on to publishing other works such as novels, novellas and possibly poetry collections in future.
The online space is brimming with literary magazines – what does the Writer’s Edit do differently?
Writer’s Edit is different because it’s a hybrid of an online literary magazine and a small press. We not only provide creative writers with the advice and tools they need to better their craft, we also supply the platforms both digital and in print, for publication as well.
We also do things differently in terms of our relationships with our authors and readers. For me, there’s a real sense of family and community to the site and small press. We’re lucky that we’re able to get to know people on a personal level – where they’re from, how many kids they have, what they’re reading – to the point where we can recommend them books, jobs, cafes etc.
Because we’re an organisation run by writers, for writers, all our interactions come with a sense of understanding. We know what it’s like being a writer in today’s climate, and we want to make that journey as fruitful and enjoyable as possible.
What is your opinion on the state of digital publishing in Australia at the moment? How would you describe it?
From where I’m sitting, it looks to me as though a lot of the bigger publishers are still struggling to understand publishing in the digital age. The established publishers are sticking to their traditional models and are simply adding a digital aspect to this, rather than integrating it into their structure completely to suit the current state of publishing.
For me, digital publishing isn’t just about e-books; it’s about author platforms, social media, online communities and online marketing – using digital technologies to reach more readers. This isn’t where most big publishers are at just yet.
That’s why the independent publishers are doing so well right now. They’re small enough to adapt to these changes in the industry, they’re versatile enough to make changes to their models and marketing strategies – they’re willing to try new things to find new readers.
Despite the constant stream of articles on the death of print and the sad reality of author incomes, it’s a really exciting time to be both a publisher and an author. We have opportunities that we never had before – print on demand, subscriber lists, social media marketing…
Are there any books or articles you are particularly proud of having published through the Writer’s Edit?
So far, Writer’s Edit has published two books (with a third due out later this year) and soon to be over 500 articles online. Naturally, I’m incredibly proud of everything we’ve put out into the world, but special mentions go to the following:
Kindling Volume I and Kindling Volume II
These books started off as a very romanticised idea of publishing beautiful books, but have turned out to be something much bigger. They’ve become a known launchpad for the careers of emerging writers. Our authors have gone on to publish full-length novels, as well as win awards and grants. That’s something I’m very proud of as a publisher and editor.
There are so many amazing articles on our site that offer authors advice and thoughtful insights into our industry.
However, one I’m really proud to have published recently is a fantastic article by Hannah Macauley-Gierhart called ‘The Complicated Reality of Gender-Bias in Writing and Publishing’, which interviews some of Australia’s leading ladies in publishing, and delves into troubling issues of sexism in the industry.
Finally, our Deputy Editor, Kyra Bandte has also recently taken over our Short Story and Poem of the Month initiative and she’s published some wonderful pieces, along with insightful commentary from the authors themselves. You can check them out here.
You did a BA in Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong. How do you think this helped you as a writer?
My degree opened my eyes to all different forms and styles of literature. It provided me with a wonderful foundation for how to read as a writer, as well as how to handle constructive feedback, which is essential for any writer. I can’t imagine having studied anything else.
Do you think creative writing degrees are a good idea?
In terms of whether a creative writing degree is a good idea or not… When it comes to tertiary level education, you should study what you’re passionate about, and what you’re good at. A creative writing degree isn’t essential to a writer, but it will provide you with tools and experiences you’ll use along the way.
With that being said, I don’t think they’re for everyone. It really depends on the writer knowing themselves well enough to decide.
What is your approach to writing? How do you think about it, practically?
I’m quite a disciplined person, and because of that, my writing process is all about routine. I try my best to write or at least work on my WIP in some respect every day.
The two novels I’ve written so far were both written in a month each (with lots of rewriting and editing to follow), because I get really into the routine of it.
In order to write that quickly, I tend to do a fair bit of planning – the overarching narrative, the subplots and then move down into more detail like chapters and scenes. This really helps me power through even when I feel stuck.
You spend a lot of time reading other people’s work. When you are done doing that, do you come away with any ideas or resolutions vis-a-vis your own work?
Hmm… that’s a great question! I wouldn’t say I come away with ideas from other people’s work, but rather I feel inspired to continue working on my own projects.
That’s one of the best things about Writer’s Edit – being surrounded by incredibly talented writers who are all doing amazing things. It’s a super inspiring environment to be a part of.
As a writer and publisher, have you experienced difficulties or challenges because of your gender?
This is such an important issue in this industry, so I’m so glad you asked this question!
In terms of being a publisher, I haven’t experienced difficulties here. I’m actually really proud to say that the majority of our Kindling authors are women, and both our site and small press are dedicated to creating equal opportunity, as well as supportive platforms for female writers.
However, as a writer, I’ve always been aware of the implications my gender can have on my work. Things like being a woman and writing about women somehow categorises you as a ‘women’s writer’ writing ‘women’s fiction’, and that ‘women’s fiction’ is a lesser form of fiction… It’s infuriating!
I think this is why the majority of characters in my first novel are male. Similarly, I’ve noticed how women writers get quizzed on the ‘autobiographical’ nature of their work if they write female characters, whereas male writers get this to a much lesser extent.
These issues are just the tip of the iceberg, and have not only influenced what work I do and don’t write, but have affected many of my female writer friends as well.
The concerns regarding gender and writing are deep-rooted issues, and unfortunately there’s no quick fix for them. We just have to keep the conversation going, and in particular, female authors should be encouraged to speak up about the challenges they face in the industry due to their gender.