After her first novel, The Promise Seed, was published by UQP in 2015, debut author Cass Moriarty has racked up countless awards, commendations, and glowing reviews. AWM recently sat down with Cass to discuss her process, her influences, and her advice for other writers working toward their debuts.
The opening scene of The Promise Seed was very clear in my mind from the first day I sat down to write it. I could hear the old man’s voice in my head. It was almost as if the story was unfolding around me, and I was merely writing it down! I would sit down each day and feel quite excited, thinking ‘I wonder what’s going to happen today?’ That process continued throughout the story. I suppose the first full draft took about two years to write, and then it was a process of another two years towards editing and publication. I had written two other manuscripts before this one, but The Promise Seed always felt ‘right’ and ‘ready’. The old man and then the boy crept into my heart as surely as they crept onto the pages of the book. Not too much changed from the original idea to the finished novel.
When you do write, do you aim for a certain amount of pages or words per day? Do you have a structure you stick to when sitting down and writing a new piece?
It depends in which part of the writing process I’m engaged – if I’m working on new work, I do like to write every day, even if I only manage a small amount of words. I find it’s easier to capture and hold the thread of the story in my mind if I’m connecting with it every day. If I have a deadline, I will definitely have a word goal per day! So, for example, I signed a contract for my second novel (due to be published by UQP in mid-2017) when I only had an incomplete draft, so I worked hard to have the first full draft to UQP by the deadline, and to do that, I worked out approximately how many words I had left to write, and then tried to achieve an output per day or per week in order that I would meet the deadline. It’s different for copy editing – that just takes as long as it takes. It’s a sometimes tedious but ultimately satisfying process that irons out all the creases in the work and perfects it as much as I am able. I actually find the structural edit the hardest part – considering the in-depth and detailed feedback provided by my (amazing) editor and thinking about how I can incorporate that into the draft to make the manuscript better, tighter, more readable and accessible. At times it seems overwhelming, but I know that once I get back into the swing of the manuscript, the challenges I am forced to confront will inevitably result in resolutions and changes that make the story stronger.
Do you have any authors that have influenced you and your work? What are you reading at the moment?
Oh, so many wonderful authors! I read A LOT and try to read as many Australian authors – and debut authors – as I can. In no particular order, I love the (established) Australian writing of Helen Garner, Susan Johnson, Nick Earls (his Wisdom Tree novellas are beautiful), Charlotte Wood and Hannah Richell. Some recent debut novels I’ve read include Sing Fox to Me by Sarah Kanake, The Windy Season by Sam Carmody, Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic, and Leaving Elvis by Michelle Michau-Crawford. Hope Farm by Peggy Frew is one of my favourite books this year. Other recent favourites include Nike Sulway’s Dying in the First Person, Comfort Food (poetry by Ellen van Neervan), everything by Inga Simpson, and everything by Toni Jordan! International authors I return to again and again are Alice Hoffman, Chris Cleave, Kate Atkinson (I devour all her books) and for light relief, Alexander McCall Smith. Too many to list really! I hope that I am influenced by them all – that their beautiful words and the skill with which they craft a story somehow, by osmosis, passes into me. I always review the books I read, and I think this really helps my writing – to think about what works in a novel and why, and what doesn’t work, what seems clumsy, as opposed to what seems effortless and authentic.
I almost forgot! The book I have just finished reading is the amazing YA novel Becoming Aurora by debut author Elizabeth Kasmer. Liz won last year’s Emerging Author Award. It’s a beautiful story and reminds me of everything good about YA literature.
The Promise Seed touches on some heavy themes surrounding children and the trust they put in adults. Were you able to distance yourself when writing those scenes? How important do you think it is for writers to portray social issues in the works?
It is a tricky balancing act – I had to immerse myself in the lives of the characters in order to make their stories believable and meaningful, but I also had to maintain enough distance that I didn’t become overly invested or sentimental, because that would have been of detriment to the writing. I do think that writers have a special opportunity in that they have a voice that sometimes is listened to, and so to write about social issues becomes a responsibility and a privilege. I don’t think a writer should set out to push a social agenda ahead of the story; I think the story always comes first. But I do think that when it becomes evident that characters or situations in the story are vulnerable or disenfranchised or silent, it is important to use our writing as a tool to give them a voice.
What has your experience been like publishing a book in Australia? If you could have a debut novel again, what would you do differently?
I have had an incredibly fortunate journey to publication. The Promise Seed was shortlisted as an unpublished manuscript in the Emerging Author Category of the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards, and that was a great opportunity. It opened many doors for me. My publisher, University of Queensland Press, is extremely supportive and loyal. I don’t know that I would have done anything differently, as I have really had a dream run. The Promise Seed has had numerous positive reviews in major publications and I have been invited to speak at many book clubs and libraries and met many generous readers who have connected with the book. In this year’s 2016 Queensland Literary Awards, the novel has been nominated for The Courier-Mail People’s Choice Award (you can vote at qldliteraryawards.org.au) so I feel very lucky and happy that it has touched a chord with many different people, and moved them or made them want to think and discuss certain issues. In the end, that’s the best that a writer can hope for: that our words engage with readers in a meaningful way.
I suppose – in terms of advice for new writers – I would say read a lot and read widely, and engage with the writing community every opportunity you can – local writers and readers, and then the wider community through organisations such as Queensland Writers Centre. Other authors have so much to offer in terms of knowledge, skills and experience. There is always something to learn. Be generous in your support of authors you admire and spread the literary love!
You can read more about Cass Moriarty here.
TJ Wilkshire is a twenty-something Brisbane based artist and writer. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and English Literature and is currently studying the WEP Masters at the University of Queensland. Her work focuses on birds and she hopes to one-day turn into one. Wilkshire’s poetry has been published in Peril and Uneven Floor, and won the NotJack Competition.