It was about week seven that I started to crack. I suppose that makes sense, I mean if there is a seven year itch in marriage there’s probably a seven week panic in isolation. Before week seven I had tiny moments of alarm mainly around finances, the possible longevity of the situation, how my kids’ lives would be affected… that sort of thing. I felt a deep empathy for people who had lost a lot more than me, those in hospitality or the arts and I worried about the health care workers. But if I’m honest, a small part of me revelled in the drama and the change. There were a lot of positives to being shut up at home. I could stop spending over 15 hours a week in the car ferrying kids to school and activities, just thinking about the savings in petrol alone made me smile. I could stop the endless planning and the million administrative tasks that having a budding athlete entails – no tennis, no tournaments, rankings, coaching, squads, UTR… I could stop having to be here and there and everywhere. I could just stop. Oh, how naive and idealistic I was.
Sure, those things stopped, but hello! home schooling, fitness, endless cooking, cleaning and shopping for food. I blame the snacks. I have callouses from the amount of carrots and cucumber I’ve chopped over the past three months. Also, I never realised just how much extra mess there is when we are all at home, all of the time.
Still, I was coping. It was nice to have the kids around, they’re great kids and there were jigsaws, board games, reading, darts and Fortnite challenges to see us through. There was also American hopscotch, but since I rolled my ankle trying to perform a particularly difficult hop and kick manoeuvre, the shine somewhat diminished from the activity. Hubby still went in to work most days, so that didn’t change and I set up a schedule that seemed to work. An hour of fitness a day, plus an hour of tennis for each kid since we still had a local court open. Sundays were totally free. A school work checklist for each kid to complete. And sorted. I made peace with the fact that I wouldn’t get much writing done, but there were other things to focus on — like my website, reading, research. It was all good. Until it wasn’t.
I found myself becoming angrier and angrier. More restless. Irrational. Caged. My world felt the size of a walnut and I’d inspected all it’s creases and curves and found it grossly wanting. I wanted my life back. I want my life back.
I bet you do too.
The first time I saw Dee White was on stage at a SCWBI conference in Sydney. She blew me away with her writing but I was too much of a newbie writer to go and tell her that at the time. It wasn’t until much later that I finally met up with her properly and this time she blew me away with her knowledge about the writing industry, her warmth, optimism and her inclusiveness.
Dee has wanted to be a writer since she was seven and has published over 20 books, including two that have just been released Beyond Belief and Eddie Popcorn’s Guide to Parenting.
RM: Hi Dee, thanks so much for this interview. COVID19 has created some strange times. What’s been the most surprising thing about COVID19 isolation for you?
DW: I’ve discovered how much I love filmmaking and editing as well as writing. My son’s an actor who doesn’t have work (apart from being a barista – he’s a really good barista) due to the pandemic. He moved back home just before it started and we’ve been making little films using popcorn and puppets … and I’ve discovered how to make puppets out of oven mitts. Who knew that could be so much fun? My general lifestyle hasn’t changed a lot really. I’m still working from home, writing.
RM: What are you currently reading?
DW: How to Grow a Family Tree by Eliza Henry Jones. It’s a beautiful YA book about family, friendship and the meaning of home. Everyone should read it.
RM: What author do you wish could be your mentor?
DW: Ellen Hopkins – NY Times bestselling author of amazing YA verse novel books – and I actually got to work with her when I was awarded a SCBWI Nevada mentorship. So lucky! At the moment I’m doing the Masterclass series of online workshops with authors like Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman and Judy Blume. They’re sharing lots of their writing secrets so it kind of feels like I’m being mentored by them.
RM: What does literary success look like to you?
DW: Getting messages from readers telling me how much they resonate with my work, making people happy, writing books that change lives and people’s way of thinking. Of course having a book made into a film would be great too.
RM: You were supposed to have three books out now, how does that even happen? Are you super human? Do you have a favourite?
DW: I have the two books out now. The third one, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming, has been postponed till next year because of ‘the virus’. I started writing Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training more than ten years ago when my son (the one who is now an adult and is helping me make movies) was the same age as my character Eddy. I started writing Beyond Belief four years ago yet somehow both books ended up being released within a month of each other. It’s all about accidental timing … I mean you wouldn’t actually plan to have two books released during a pandemic, would you?
Asking me to pick a favourite is like choosing a favourite child, which of course I could never do. I love Eddy because he’s so much fun and he’s that kid who’s quirky and a bit naughty … kind of like I was as a child. Beyond Belief is very dear to my heart in a different way. It’s inspired by the true story of Muslims at a Paris mosque who saved Jewish children during WW11. My father was forced to flee Nazi-occupied Austria after Kristallnacht and I grew up with stories of what he and his family went through so when I became an author I always wanted to represent his experiences through my writing somehow.
RM: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as an author?
DW: I’ve made lots of mistakes as an author. Sorry, as you can probably tell I’m not very good at picking just one thing. Things I’ve learned are, never compare yourself to others, be open to constructive feedback but don’t lose sight of your vision for your story, expect the unexpected and just go with it, don’t be deterred by the pessimism of others … somebody has to get their book published … why not you?
RM: One of the first times I met you, you rolled off at least 5 grants you’d applied for recently and received. I walked away thinking that you’re not only super imaginative in your work, you are also creative and resourceful when it comes to managing your career. What are your three best tips on how to make a living out of writing?
DW: 1. Definitely apply for possible grants, mentorships, any opportunities for free learning or getting money to do what you need to develop a project. They have to be awarded to someone, why not you? Having said that, I tend to focus more on grants at state and local level and have more success there than with national ones. I always just go for things and then worry about how to make it happen. For example, when I applied for the SCBWI Nevada mentorship and got it, I then applied for a CAL grant to help with travel costs. When I discovered the true account of the Paris Muslims who had saved Jews, I knew I had to get to Paris and applied for every grant possible until I got there. I don’t get many of the grants that I apply for, but each one teaches me something about applying for grants.
2. Make your own opportunities. For example, I have a one-month artist residency coming up with a remote school on the border of Victoria and NSW. I’ve always thought that these kinds of schools miss out a lot because they don’t have the funds to get authors up from Melbourne or the city. I discovered the Creative Learning Partnerships grants offered by Creative Victoria. So, then I approached the school with a plan of how my artist residency could help raise literacy levels and engage kids in writing and I related the activities to their local history and environment. The school was very enthusiastic. An author in residence for a month … and it wasn’t coming out of their school budget. We applied for the grant together and were fortunately successful.
3. Diversify and keep writing – I’ve worked as an advertising copywriter, journalist and blogger, but being an author is still my favourite. I have more than 80 manuscripts in my filing cabinet (must clean it out one day). At least 75% of them will never come to anything, but they are my practice manuscripts – the ones I have used to hone my skills. The other ones are being revised and tweaked; waiting for the right moment to be submitted. I love being an author but I’m also interested in screenwriting – which is why I subscribed to Masterclass – to learn new skills. So that’s the next thing I plan to try.
RM: I love your attitude of just going for it and working it out as you go. You are so right – someone has to win the grant, get published, etc so why not you. Thanks so much for your insights and now to finish off, every non-decisive person’s nightmare of choice a quick This or That.
Physical book or ebook? As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m not good at these questions … not very decisive. I LOVE physical books, but seeing as my library has been closed and book deliveries have been very slow, I discovered BorrowBox and now I LOVE having books on my phone and reading them there. It’s like keeping a book in your pocket. How cool is that?
Longhand or typed first draft? I always start longhand. I feel more connected to my story somehow … and I can write anywhere.
Coffee of tea? Tea
Scones or Cake? Cake (except for my hubby’s amazing pumpkin scones).
Fantasy or Contemporary? Contemporary … but I love fantasy too)
Sport or Music? I love playing golf … although some people probably don’t consider that a sport, so I’d better say music.
Middle Grade or YA? That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child again. I read and write both. Sorry, can’t choose.
Thanks for having me, Renee. I really enjoyed your questions.
You can learn more about Dee on her website.
I find blogging hard. Not finding ideas, or the writing, usually. It’s putting those ideas out there. For everyone to see. Opening the Kimono, as my husband would say. (I laughed for a solid minute the first time he used this phrase, the visual was priceless, especially since he used it in a business context. But I digress.) I find it hard because I’m opinionated — in a good way, in a bad way, in an indecisive way. And like nearly everyone else on the planet, I worry that my opinions will be twisted, warped, demonised.
I recently saw a post on twitter to Diana Gabaldon, writer of the hugely popular Outlander books and TV series. A person tweeted, asking why she didn’t have a non-binary character in her books. She responded that the characters sex lives were up to them and weren’t revealed unless they played a part in the story. Well, the outcry. The vitriol. Didn’t Diana know the difference between gender and sexuality? Didn’t the person know the books were set in the 1800s where ‘that sort of thing’ wasn’t out in the open. If this person wanted to see a non-binary character, why didn’t they go and write a massively successful series… and on and on it went. It’s enough to send anyone crouching to a corner to rock.
I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want that to happen to anyone. But I do want to feel that I can express my thoughts. I do want to feel uncomfortable when someone with a valid, well thought out point disagrees with me, because that means I’m building empathy and knowledge. I want a debate, a conversation, to hear a different point of view. I also want to take more risks in my work as a writer. To be brave and to pour out All The Feelings on the page. To go deep. And that takes practice.
So, I’m just going to do it. I’m sure I’ll get it wrong and offend someone, I’m sure it won’t all go smoothly and I’m very sure most people won’t even notice or care. But I want to take that risk of speaking up. And I want you all to know, that my intention is not to divide, or judge or isolate, it’s just to… wonder.