HARDCOPY is a unique, national professional development program run by the ACT Writers Centre that helps build the capacities, aptitudes and resources committed Australian writers need in order to reach their potential. In 2014, the program debuted with 30 emerging fiction writers who were enthusiastic about their projects, and embraced the opportunities the program provided.
The 2016 program is again focusing on fiction, so we caught up with HARDCOPY 2014 alumnus, Frances Chapman, on her experience with the program, and how her writing career has progressed.
ACTWC: What attracted you to the HARDCOPY program?
Frances Chapman: I heard about the HARDCOPY program because a friend in my writing group applied and suggested I do the same. It appeared to have a national focus, which intrigued me: a number of other programs and workshops I had heard about seemed very Sydney-focused, which isn’t exactly a negative, but I was at the stage where I was interested in meeting others from around Australia.
I was attracted to the program because it seemed to offer a chance to meet other writers at the same stage as myself. Writing can seem such a solitary pursuit: you’re in a room with your thoughts and your computer and your story for months—sometimes years—on end. The idea of meeting other writers who were also grappling with writing a novel was very appealing to me.
Connecting writers around the country is one of the aims of HARDCOPY. How did the program help you connect with other writers?
The workshopping part of the program on the first long weekend offered me invaluable feedback from other writers. We split into groups with writers who were working in a similar genre. It was fantastic to receive five close critiques of my work, and to get an insight into what othe
r writers are working on in my genre. After the first weekend, we kept in touch through social media. This has led to me feeling very ‘plugged in’ to a community of writers— and it’s a community which keeps growing with each new group of attendees, as the program goes into its third year.
This has meant that there is always a ready-made group of readers, a sounding board, and a support network as we all approach the next stage—whether that’s seeking publication, finding an agent, working on the next draft, or starting something completely new. We read each other’s work, offer structural edits and comments, commiserate with rejections, share useful links and articles, introduce each other to contacts, and apply a ‘hive mind’ to problems.
Speaking of the first long weekend, the program kicked off with a 3-day editing masterclass. Did you find this impacted your writing? What effect did it have on the shape of your manuscript?
When I started writing my manuscript, I didn’t really have a plan, or any ideas about structure, or even a clear idea of what I wanted to say. I had an idea of the story, and the characters came to me very strongly, but the broader issues of storytelling and structure hadn’t really occurred to me. HARDCOPY came to me at a great time, because I had just finished my second draft, but I was aware that there were serious issues with the narrative and I had no idea how to fix them.
The 3-day masterclass was a chance to pick the brains of an expert in structure and to come back to the manuscript and look at it from a structural point of view. Up until that point I had been tinkering with sentences or scenes, but I hadn’t been able to step back and see the manuscript as a whole, to ask those broader questions: Why would anyone keep reading? What is the narrative thread pulling the reader from beginning to end? What is this story actually about? Why am I the only one who can tell it?
The Intro2Industry seminars were jam-packed with professionals from all areas of the publishing industry, from digital publishing to contracts and copyright. How did you find these sessions? Were there any particular presentations that stood out?
Intro2Industry was really eye-opening for me. I had been writing all my life, with a somewhat naive view that if the words were good enough, someone would publish it. Intro2Industry gave me some much-needed perspective about the commercial realities of selling fiction.
I found all of the sessions fascinating and essential for different reasons. Some which stick in my mind are Alex Adsett’s session on negotiating legal contracts, which I hope I will have cause to come back to one day. Simon Groth’s session on tearing apart the very idea of ’the book‘ and remaking it for the modern world was intriguing. I especially enjoyed Linda Tate’s session on agents—I really appreciated Linda’s direct and commercial approach.
How did the overall program affect your writing, and your writing career?
Through the third round of the HARDCOPY program, I met a number of agents and publishers who were supportive and interested in my work. One in particular invited me to submit my full manuscript to her and I received extensive written feedback from her. Receiving constructive criticism from industry professionals at this early stage of writing was invaluable and, I would also say, quite unique to this program. It gave me a clear direction and resulted in my reconsidering fundamental issues with the manuscript.
I am now working on a new manuscript and it has been amazing to me to apply my new skills from the program to a new piece of writing. I am feeling more in control, more positive, and am taking more commercial considerations than I did with my first manuscript. I have also developed a social media presence and linked in to a community of writers who are supportive, collaborative, and offer honest and well-thought-out feedback.
What advice would you have for writers considering participating in HARDCOPY 2016?
I think I got as much out of the program as I did because I was open to perspectives which contradicted my initial views. Because of this, the program opened my eyes to viewpoints I had not previously considered.
An example of this for me was with a talk by an agent who was very focussed on the commercial realities of publishing; some of my fellow attendees found this news and her delivery to be disappointing because they had hoped that artistic merit would trump commercial concerns. I too had initially believed that if my work was good enough, that would speak for itself. However, I felt her talk gave me a whole new perspective and it made me look at my manuscript in a new light. I started to ask myself, ‘Will this sell? Will people want to read this?’ rather than my earlier questions ‘is this sentence any good?’ ‘Does this sound realistic?’
So my advice to 2016 Hardcopiers would be to remain open to hearing new viewpoints, and to use the opportunity of meeting industry professionals to pick their brains about the realities of publishing – even those realities which might seem unsupportive of writers. It was a wonderful opportunity to gain an insight into the publishing industry, with everything covered from query letters to social media profiles to the legal ins and outs of contracts.
Frances Chapman is a writer and editor from Sydney. Her essays, reviews and short fiction have been published online and in various journals. She is an editorial consultant and contributor to the literary quarterly, Bread Wine & Thou, and is currently writing her second novel. You can find her on Wattpad, Twitter and her blog.
More information about the HARDCOPY program can be found on the ACT Writers Centre website. Applications will close on March 11.