Interview with YA author Stacy Nottle

Like many authors, Stacy Nottle’s has a rich and varied work history having worked as a shearer’s cook, a waitress, a scientific research assistant, a high school science teacher; and as a careers counsellor in an all boys’ boarding school.

Stacy’s career has evolved over time, yet her love of stories—other people’s and those she makes up for herself—has remained a personal passion.

Growing up on a sheep station at the far reaches of Australia, Stacy spent her early years adrift inside her make-believe world of mystery and imagination.

At age six, she went away to boarding school ‘in town’, and later ‘in the city’, where she discovered another world. She studied science at university and has worked as a shearers’ cook, waitress, scientific research assistant, high school science teacher; and careers counsellor in an all boys’ boarding school.

She has a liking for adventure and her body bears the scars of a big life well-lived.

Stacy is an active member in the Queensland writing community attending workshops, writers’ groups and festivals which have connected her with mentors and allies that have helped her along the way.

Stacy’s debut novel, After the Flood, will be released on June 30 by Black Phoenix Publishing Collective. After the Flood is a meditation on loyalty, human relationship and the lengths we would go to for those we love. Combining Stacy’s love of the bush and her personal interest in human dynamics and storytelling, After the Flood, is a gripping portrayal of how we cope in the face of trauma.

To celebrate the release of After the Flood, I decided to interview Stacy about the release of her debut novel and the writing life. Enjoy.


 

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Q1 / Can you share with us the story behind the story? What was the initial inspiration for writing After the Flood? 

Many years ago, I participated in a Season’s Grief Program for Young People where I was deeply moved and fascinated to hear the stories the young people told of their loss and grief and how they dealt with it. More than a decade later, at a boarding school where I was then teaching, I found my attention constantly being drawn to this one, sandy-haired young boy of about twelve. He was from outback QLD and seemed in many ways to be a regular kid who was busy with the task of making new friends and settling into boarding school…but something about him was different. Then I found out that he had lost his sister to leukaemia and I realised that what I was observing was grief. The kind of grief that leaves a hole in your life that is too big to ever fill. I began to think about the boy’s grief, and then about his family who must have also been devastated by their loss. Farmer’s have enough challenges without having to deal with something as unspeakable as the loss of a child, I thought. It made me very, very sad. So I wrote about it. I created a little boy called Jamie McKenzie and tried to articulate how this brave, stoic little fellow coped when all around, his life was crumbling. It was only meant to be a short story, but then I met Wilhelmina Johnson, an eighteen-year-old girl from Sydney whose life had also been marred by loss. Then I brought Jamie and Wilhelmina together to see what would happen.

Q2 / How has the work changed from your initial idea to now, the finished publication? 

It evolved slowly from that first impression of a young boy’s grief. The idea of a dual timeline (when Jamie was a boy and when Jamie is a man) came to me quite early. I remember talking to a counsellor once who told me that a child who suffers loss and trauma can take more than twenty years to recover and I wanted to see how Jamie was doing as an adult. So I created Jamie’s daughter, Cass, a young girl with a striking resemblance to his long-dead sister and thought – that’s interesting! Characters came and went, but those that matter are still there in the story, pulling their weight.

Q3 / Can you tell us a little about your writing routine? 

When I first wrote about Jamie McKenzie, I was working full-time and was busy most weekends with sport, and I was desperate for my own quiet little space in which to write. So I set up a tiny desk in a tiny junk room in a corner of my drafty old house. But the floor was crooked and my office chair kept rolling away from the desk, and I had to hold my body in this rigid, lop-sided pose if I wanted to remain seated at the desk. Such constant contortion gave me a sore back. Also, it was cold in that little junk room. So I got a giant-sized desk and placed it in the corner of the lounge room, then found myself constantly grumpy when my husband, Richard, wanted to watch Landline or have a chat. Then I got cancer and took a year off work. During this time, I was too ill to write and my creativity seemed to have gone on holiday; but I did reread Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ and began writing morning pages. Now I work three days a week and write in the lounge room on my days off and on weekends when the sun is shining and Richard is outside doing ‘what Richard does’ in the garden. I don’t write at night because then my brain won’t want to go to sleep and I like to get up early to walk my dogs. I love to pants. It is so much fun letting my characters do whatever they like. But I’ve discovered that if I don’t plot, I end up writing millions of words that will never see the light of day.

Q4 / What tools, books, workshops or resources did you find most supportive during the writing of After the Flood? 

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron got me back to writing. Cancer helped me rearrange my priorities.

At the urging of a friend, I took a weekend workshop on self-publishing with Dallas Baker. Dallas told me about using Beta Readers (shock! horror! let someone read my scribbling?), gave me some very excellent advice and got me on the path to publishing. I sent After the Flood to seven beta readers including a few people who had some expertise in issues raised in the story such as a police officer. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but also really useful. Jessica Stewart did a structural edit and it was fabulous to have her brilliant advice and also her warm enthusiasm for Jamie McKenzie and Wilhelmina Johnson. The list of people who have helped is a long one.

Q5 / What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were first drafting your novel? 

While pantsing is fun, I really do need a plot.

Q6 / What are you most excited about right now? 

That’s an easy one! I’m sitting at Brisbane International about to board a flight to the states to visit my daughter. I’m also very excited about the release of After the Flood. And I’m looking forward to getting back to the writing process and doing another story. I have two I’m working on. One is speculative fiction, set in a futuristic Brisbane, with a working title of Salience. The other is a memoir with the working title Breastless…or maybe Giantess with Angel Wings.


 

After the Flood FRONT FINAL
What would you do to save someone you loved? When the storm breaks and the creek at Moonbroch Station floods, more than one life is in danger.

After the Flood explores loyalty and the tensions and complexities of abiding relationships. A gripping portrayal of how we cope with trauma, After the Flood is as uplifting as it is thought-provoking.

‘Friends forever?’ she said. He cleared his own scratchy throat and nodded. ‘Yes.’  Then he reached down and gently tangled his little finger with hers. ‘Pinkie promise,’ he said.

 

Available from:

Amazon

 

Five Things That Will Derail Your Writing

Five things that will zap my productivity and derail a writing day like nothing else* are a lack of sleep, technology/internet, excessive noise, not knowing what needs to be done next and skipping breaks.

Lack of sleep

This is a tricky one to talk about because we are both in control and not in control of our sleep patterns. A bad night’s sleep doesn’t always derail my productivity, but it does influence what tasks I chose to complete. If I’m sleep deprived, I probably won’t tackle heavy tasks like reading theoretical scholarly texts or writing assignments. If I’m feeling weary, I tend to tackle lighter tasks like writing blogs, editing vlogs or catching up on domestic chores and errands. Of course, there are also times when you just have to take the damn day off.

There are habits you can develop that both assist and hinder your quality of sleep. Avoiding blue-light (laptops, mobiles and even televisions), keeping the room cool, minimising all forms of light and noise from your bedroom and engaging in relaxing activities at least one hour before bed are all good practices to improve your quality of sleep. Doing the exact opposite of this may not affect your sleep, but if you’re struggling to get eight hours of shut-eye, reassessing your sleep-time habits and developing new healthier ones is a must.

The internet, email and social media

This one is fairly obvious, right? The internet/technology is an endless source of interruption with all those bells and dings that alert us whenever we get an email, text or phone call. It is so easy to distract ourselves with social media, email and texting. It is so easy to reach for our phone or web browser whenever a task feels too hard or a problem arises and we don’t know how to fix it. Unless you have an iron will – some days I do and some days I don’t – the best way to combat this problem is by turning off your devices, including your wifi. An even better solution is relocating your workspace to a place where there is no wifi! Hello, dingy café!

Excessive noise

I prefer writing in silence, but that’s not always possible. While I can easily tune out a little background noise, the sound of the television, music playing or people talking can become very distracting. If you can’t relocate your workspace, then I highly recommend that you check out the website ambient-mix.com. This site contains a wide variety of looped white noise soundtracks including Sherlock’s Apartment and Griffindor Common Room. It’s not silence but when combined with a comfy pair of headphones it’s the next best thing.

Not knowing what needs to be done next

This point pertains to just about everything from academic and creative writing to your good old general to-do list. It is so easy to waste time when you don’t know what needs to be done in order to move forward.

If I start a writing session without knowing what needs to happen next, I can waste 10-30 minutes staring at the screen or writing waffle because I’m trying to write my way into the story rather than writing the story. If I refer to my outline or if I spend five minutes writing a mini-outline, then I can dive right into the story because I know what has to happen next.

When it comes to general to-do lists, it’s not always easy to determine which tasks are the priorities. A lengthy to-do list can leave us feeling scatterbrained and overwhelmed, especially when every task seems vital and urgent. Our inner taskmaster will try to convince us that everything is important and everything needs to be done right now, but that is rarely the truth. A simple way to combat this problem is to consider which tasks (if any) have deadlines. If so, start with those – especially if the deadline is soon. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, maybe you need to re-examine your list and ask yourself if any of these tasks can be broken into smaller tasks. For example, you may be torn between writing your next assignment or working on your thesis. Given that your assignment is due first, that task needs to be made the priority. If you are working on a long-term project like writing a thesis, you need to break that HUGE task into small manageable steps like read five journal articles this week and write a 500-word piece that summaries what you’ve learned or find ten sources that will help you write the first chapter.

Skipping breaks

This bad habit has two different forms. First, there is the chugging away day after day after day which can quickly lead to burn out and a week spent on the couch staring at the ceiling or Netflix if that’s your jam. The second is when you work for five hours straight – no stretching, no toilet breaks, no water, no lunch – and then collapse in a heap at 2pm.

Taking a break can seem like a lousy idea when you’re in the flow. And look, if you don’t take a break, the writing police aren’t exactly going to kick down your door, but most of the time we aren’t working in a frenzy because the muse has whacked us with her inspiration stick, we’re simply working. And when you’re simply working, make sure you take regular breaks.

You may enjoy using the Pomodoro technique of working for either 25 or 45 minutes and then having a 5 or 15 minute break. These mini-breaks give you a chance to peel your eyes away from the screen and to stretch your body, get some water or go to the bathroom. Do not check your phone! The idea of these breaks is to get your eyeballs off blue-light screens.

In addition to these physical needs, it also gives your brain a rest! Dani Shapiro said that smoking used to be one of her best writing habits because it allowed her to fully relax for a couple of minutes. This was back in the early nineties i.e. no phones. These days, we fill our “breaks” with social media and texting. Rather than allowing our mind to relax and become empty, we fill them up with images, posts and Insta quotes. Please note, I am not advocating that you take up smoking but what I am saying, and Anne Lammot will back me up here, is that everything works again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you! Giving your brain a mini power down is a great way to ensure that you get the most out of a work day. Instead of going hard and burning out after a couple of hours, you can steadily putt through an entire day.

These five things may be small, but the impact they have on your level of productivity can be huge. Thankfully, all five of these distractions and interruptions can be overcome with a little planning and a splash of will power. Don’t let anything get in the way of finishing your story or reaching your writing goals, not even Instagram!

(*Disclaimer: this list does not include the interrupts and emergencies that life can throw at us. Instead, it focuses on the inconveniences we can control).