Margot McGovern is an Australian freelance writer and editor, originally from Adelaide, has lived in Melbourne and currently lives in Perth with her husband. Margot has a PhD in creative writing from Flinders University and was an associate editor of “Ride On” magazine. Margot’s book reviews have appeared in some of Australia’s top literary journals including Australian Book Review and Kill Your Darlings. She mainly writes YA and her manuscript “Neverland” was shortlisted for the 2015 Text Prize.
NLK: Your book reviews are sensational and widely published. Why do you review books?
MM: Thank you so much! That’s very kind of you to say. I review for a couple of reasons. At a fundamental level, when I discover a great book, I want to celebrate it and tell everyone why they should read it too. More than that, I think reviews, particularly those containing a good measure of analysis, spark conversations around books, reading and the craft of writing and prompt us to be more engaged readers.
I also firmly believe that the best way for a writer to improve is to read as widely and deeply as possible. So I see reviewing as a form of professional development, as knowing I’m going to review a book forces me to pay close attention to what an author has set out to achieve, how they’ve gone about it and why it’s important.
NLK: What was the most important thing you learned from earning a PhD in creative writing?
MM: That’s tricky to narrow down! I don’t think the PhD is for everyone, and candidates need to have a clear (and realistic) understanding of what they hope to get out of the degree before diving in. That said, being given the time and space to work under the supervision of established authors and academics is an invaluable opportunity. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had a truly wonderful primary supervisor, Dr Ruth Starke, and to have been part of a very supportive and enthusiastic bunch of postgrads at Flinders Uni.
Aside from everything I learned about writing and research, my biggest takeaways from the PhD were self-discipline and persistence. It’s such a hard slog, and there were so many times when I felt completely overwhelmed and ready to give up. I also had a terrible case of ‘impostor syndrome’, which is not uncommon. The whole way through I had this little voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t smart enough or motivated enough to pass. However, as I went along I learned how to ignore that voice, refocus and keep going. Now I have a lot more confidence working on large scale projects and know how to pull myself out of a slump.
NLK: Can you share your secret to time management?
MM: I’m still working on that one! I’m a big fan of ‘to do’ lists and deadlines. If I’m working on a non-commissioned project where there is no deadline, I’ll often use competition deadlines or calls for submissions so that I have a fixed date to work towards.
On a slightly different note, I think a hard thing for many writers is actually making the time to write in the first place. Most of us have day jobs, families and other big responsibilities. Writing can feel like an indulgence, especially if your working on non-commissioned pieces with no guarantee of publication. It’s important to mark out time for writing and fiercely defend those hours.
NLK: What are you currently working on?
MM: When my husband and I moved from Melbourne to Perth a little over a year ago, I left my job with Ride On magazine to try my hand at freelancing full-time. So far it’s been thrilling and terrifying in equal measure!
I’m also devoting a lot of time to novel writing. My great love is Young Adult fiction, and I’ve just finished a big redraft of a manuscript titled Neverland, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Text Prize, and I’m hoping to find a home for that one soon. In the meantime, I’m drafting a YA fantasy novel, as yet untitled, and co-authoring a SF trilogy (although that one’s been on the backburner of late).
Finally, I post reviews, author interviews and other bookish bits on my blog, Lectito.
NLK: You have been an associate editor for a magazine, do you have any editing tips?
MM: Sure! Familiarise yourself with the publication before you pitch. That means knowing the magazine’s tone, who the target reader is and whether they’ve published anything similar to what you have in mind in recent issues.
If an editor commissions you to write a piece, follow the brief and turn in your work on time, and if you think you might miss the deadline, give your editor as much notice as possible.
Remember that you and your editor are on the same team—you both want to make the piece the best it can be. There may be times when you disagree, and ultimately it’s your name on the piece so you need to be happy with it, but it’s important to handle disagreements in a professional manner, especially if you want to keep generating paid work.
NLK: What would be your main message to new and emerging writers?
MM: I can’t narrow it down to one, so I’m going to cheat a little and go with three!
Show moxie and play the long game. Every writer has a secret stash of rejection letters. Publishing is a hugely subjective industry and no one has a perfect strike rate. BUT don’t fall into the trap of believing that submissions editors are simply blind to your genius. You can always improve. If you’re lucky enough to get a ‘good’ rejection, where an editor gives you feedback, take it onboard and maybe rework the piece before sending it out again.
If someone takes the time to edit your work, be thankful. It can feel like tough love but they are giving you the most valuable gift a writer can receive.
Read everything you can get your hands on.
The girl was going to die without a name. Her mother had gone before her, thighs slick with blood and eyes closed against her unwanted child. She’d given a false name when she rented the room. A stranger to the city. Only passing through. The girl’s father might have been any one of a dozen men. By the time she came to my attention, the girl’s cries had quieted. The tips of her tiny fingers were already blue and the death rattle was sounding in her throat. The small noise, unheard by any human ear, cut clear through the myriad voices of the city appearing to me not as a noise, but as a glowing beacon. My agent.
It had been a long night and I was weary. The delicate fabric of my Design had been rent wide. Millennia of diligent work unspooling. I stood on a distant shore and saw the child’s light flare as those around me flickered and dimmed. From the sand at my feet I plucked a poppy, its violet petals stained dark with blood, and made haste to the child’s deathbed.
I spoke direct to her soul. Offered her a choice: die now, without pain and unmarked by history, or live and have the chance to be remembered for all time. A deceptively simple ultimatum. My Design is unravelling, rendering me weak. I cannot guarantee she will succeed in the task I set before her and the life I offer is marked by turmoil and grief. Also, I am bound by balance. What I give, I must also take in equal measure, and should she choose to live, another must die in her place.
A question in her dimming eyes. Who?
One who cannot do what is necessary.
Not a lie, exactly. But not the whole truth, either. To a crude-formed spirit yet to pass a day among the living—ignorant of love and loss—it does not seem a choice. With the last of her strength, the child reaches for the bloodied poppy in my lapel and sets my great play into action.
Copyright © Margot McGovern 2016
You can find Margot on Instagram: @project_lectito
Read Margot’s blog at http://lectito.me