August 19, 2011

Interview with Author Sally Odgers


When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I suspect it was when I realised I was good at writing stories. I was the kind of child who loves to please and hates to disappoint, and so it was good to see my teachers smile over my stories. (They sighed over my maths and handwriting and poor physical co-ordination and I was also a disappointment in singing, though I come from a musical background.) It just seemed logical to me to put most effort into my natural talent. I mean, if I could write an A++ story with a little effort why not do that rather than waste a lot of time trying to force my handwriting from C to C+?

You are considered to be one of Australia's most prolific author. What genres do you mainly write?

I prefer the term "diligent". "Prolific" is often used as an expression of disapproval, used in the same breath as "Potboiler". I love writing fantasy, sci fi, historicals and a bit of romance on the side. I have written almost all genres, apart from police procedurals and lit-fic. I have even written (much to my astonishment) a series of sports stories!

How many books have you written?

I truly don't know. It's more than 250 but fewer than 300 if you count published titles, but if you count the unpublished I couldn't even guess.

What is your educational and writing background?

I did six years of primary school and four years of high school. I started writing seriously in Year 4 (and won a state-wide writing contest) and sold my first story in either 1969 or 1970. I've been writing ever since.

Where do you like to write?

I write anywhere I can plug in my computer, including in bed, in the bath and in the living room. I don't write outside because I can't see the screen and I can no longer write when people are talking or if the TV is going (though I used to be able to.) Music is no problem. I do take notes when I'm out and about.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Anywhere and everywhere, really. I often base stories on something that happened to me or to my family, but I push the consequences to extremes.

When and why did you start your business, Affordable Manuscript Assessments?

I started reading for an agent back in the 1980s. After that, I used to field a lot of phone calls wanting advice on writing. As I had never read the mss people were talking about, I started charging a small fee to do so and to write a report. It was mostly in self defence to allow me to (politely) put off folk who wanted to hold hour-long discussions while I was busy with the children or mealtime. It has flowed from there and is now quite a lively micro-business.

What are some of the common mistakes new writers make?

They are surprisingly "common" so I wrote a book called 20 Top Tips... the Unwritten Rules of Writing to cover them. Basically, they include writing long mss when one cannot write a grammatical sentence, writing books that don't fit the intended genre, making protagonists too old or too young, and writing books that would have been popular when the writer was a child but which are now dated. To find out more; pop along to and buy an e-copy of 20 Top Tips!

What's your secret in making the characters in your books come to life?

I always use the would-he-really test. That is, taking into account the character's stated or implied background and personality and circumstances, would he or she REALLY do such and such (as demanded by the plot)? If not, how much I change the circumstances to make him/her motivated enough to do it? 

What has been the biggest highlight of your writing career?

Winning the Aurealis Award for "Candle Iron" was fun, but I think the Jack Russell Series which I co-wrote with my husband was a major high point. Check out Jack at .

Can you describe a typical day?

I tend to be slow to wake, so I drink a couple of cups of coffee (the only ones of the day) and then start catching up on e-mail. I often walk to get the mail with Tess, our senior dog, and do any shopping we need for the day. Later, I spend time either writing, editing or assessing, depending on the jobs on hand. My husband and I usually go for a long walk or jog with or without the junior dogs at some point, and I often also do floor exercises to strengthen my weak upper body. At 5:30 I go to spend an hour cooking for my nearly-90 y-o dad and then come home to make our tea (if Darrel hasn't already done it). We often watch an hour or so of DVDs and then I go back to work until bed time. On Thursdays I go to a Zumba class at 6:30 and on Fridays we spend a few hours in the city and visiting Darrel's mum. Apart from that, it's rinse and repeat!

What makes you passionate about writing?

I love stories. I love the feeling of power one gets in a powerless world when writing. I cannot fix the world, but I can give it tiny nudges through my stories.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Make sure you know basic grammar. Make certain your sentences are properly constructed. Study the market as it is now, not as it was when you were young. Understand genres and don't try to change genre givens with your first ms. Realise that you may not sell your first attempt; come on... what artist who has never picked up a paintbrush since school can paint a picture and sell it through a gallery? Try to cultivate a variety of styles. Use the would-he-really test. Don't rely on other writers at the same level for advice; that's a good way of cross-
pollinating and compounding errors. Write as well as you can, but write for joy. If you write for money and for praise you will probably be disappointed, but if the joy is in the creation, you have won, even if you never sell a story.

What do you think of book week?

I love doing Book Week school visits, though I do fewer these days. I cannot travel for hours to do one short session, so I accept only extended jobs or those close by. It seems inevitable that only schools a long way from home invite my services... and only for an hour or so. So please, nearby schools... consider inviting your LOCAL authors! And please, faraway schools, consider sharing a writer with other schools in your district. Airfares and accommodation can so easily swamp an author's fee for the day.

What do you enjoy the most about presenting and visiting schools?

I love sharing my enthusiasm for books and stories. I love helping young writers to avoid the mistakes writers make because they're never told they ARE mistakes. (Unwritten rules of writing, remember?) I love visiting schools to talk to young writers because I was one myself. I am living proof that a child can write well enough to win contests and to sell stories, if s/he has the talent and determination, and if s/he learns to write correctly.

What do you like to do when you're not writing or assessing?

I like to walk with or without dogs, husband or audio-book, watch sf or detective DVDs, listen to music, jog, play with Facebook, read, collect things and dabble in the garden. If my grandchildren were not at the other end of the country I'd spend time with them.


Karen Tyrrell said...

Thanks Renee for this fabulous interview.I learned so much more about Sally.
I have the utmost respect for Sally not only as a "diligent" writer but for her editing and assessing skills. She did a brilliant job editing and reviewing my books, which I'm extremely grateful for :))

Unknown said...

Sally is so respected in the writing community. She's one of a kind.

Dimity said...

Renee really found this post a pleasurable read. Learnt a lot about a lady I respect especially given she can Zumba! How she crams so much in a single set of 24 hours is incredulous but hope inspiring for the rest of us.Thanks and best to Sally for adding more magic to your blog.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Dimity. Sally has provided a lot of insight into her writing career and given us fabulous advice. I'm feeling inspired to write now and exercise. I have no excuse not to put the sneakers on now :)