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Archive for May, 2011

I am thrilled today to be interviewing Phillipa Fioretti, author of ‘The Book of Love’ and ‘The Fragment of Dreams’.

Phillipa was born in Sydney and studied Humanities, Visual Arts and Museum Studies and went on to work and exhibit as a printmaker, as well as teaching part time at tertiary level. She currently writes fiction full time and was selected for participation in the 2008 Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre’s Manuscript development programme . (I have blogged about my own experience of this in 2010 here)

Her first novel, The Book of Love, published by Hachette Australia in April 2010 and the sequel, The Fragment of Dreams, has been released in May 2011. When Phillipa is not writing or reading she’s cooking or watching films, cleaning out the chook shed or walking, travelling, looking at other people’s beautiful gardens and enjoying time with family and friends.

1.Your manuscript for ‘The Book of Love’ won you a place on the Hachette/QWC Manuscript Development Programme in 2008. Do you think that ‘The Book of Love’  would have made it to publication without this opportunity?

Now that’s a tricky question! I never submitted it to anyone before entering it in the Development program so I can’t get a feel for whether it would have sunk or swam. It is a good story and it had a very light edit, so it was ready to go into the world at that point, but so much of publishing is subjective. Someone has to love it, really love it, to get it through the acquisitions meetings. I was incredibly fortunate that it fell into the hands of a publisher who did love it, but others – had they seen it – might have loved it but had no room on their lists. There are a thousand other reasons for a mss not getting through to publication so it’s hard to say. What I can say is I think it’s a good story and compares very well to its peers. It’s sold to Germany and Romania and done very well in Australia and I’m quite proud of it.

2. What has been the most enjoyable part of the publication process? Has anything surprised or disappointed you?

The most enjoyable part and the most painful part are one and the same – the structural and copy edits! It’s a rigorous and confronting process, but the thing you have to keep reminding yourself is that the editors want the best for the book, we all do, and that’s what we are working toward. I guess what I love the most is nutting out problems with people who understand and love the characters as much as I do.

3. ‘The Fragment of Dreams’ is a sequel to’ The Book of Love’. Did you find writing a second novel easier or more challenging that the first?

The Book of Love was easy to bring into the world. I adored the little universe I’d made, loved spending time with my characters, took my time with the dialogue, polished and polished and was immersed in it all the way through, it had a very light edit, a beautiful cover, great reviews, sold internationally and then POW! I had to write another one, and I had to do it to a schedule and it had to be good, even better than the first, and I had no idea if I could do it or not. It was as painful as the first was pleasurable.

I had a severe case of Second Book Syndrome and nearly crashed the whole project, but I pulled that damn rabbit out of the hat at the end, with my publisher calling it a ‘beautiful novel’ (and she does not give praise lightly). I really earned my writer’s stripes with this one, but I’m not complacent. Every book is hard to write, every creative endeavour is hard and you start from a position of fear and self doubt, always. When I received my first copy of The Fragment of Dreams in the mail I got a little misty eyed – all that agony and triumph packaged down to a pretty blue package.

4. Do you have any tips for emerging writers?

Another tough question. Read all the time, work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life and cultivate a group of like minded souls as companions for the journey. Only other writers know what it’s like and they can be a great comfort along the way.

5. What does the future hold for you as a writer?

I really want to get better at it! At the craft side, I mean. I want to tool up so I can tell the stories I want to tell without being too handicapped by technical issues. I have three books that are taking shape in my head now, plus some distant projects as well, but let’s face it, this is the leisure/entertainment industry and subject to the vagaries of the market.

I don’t know what the future holds because one is only as good as the last book. It could all go pear-shaped with the next, of course I hope it doesn’t, but you have to be psychologically prepared for it. A writer’s career is not like signing up for a tenured position. Getting published once, twice does not guarantee third and fourth, and I don’t think many unpublished writers really understand that. I’ve tried to learn from and enjoy these publishing experiences as they are. I hope for more, but try to be in the moment!

You can find out more about Phillipa at her website http://www.phillipafioretti.com.au


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The Government announced in last week’s Budget a plan to screen children at the age of three for not only physical health, but also emotional health. It’s part of a bigger package of spending on the prevention and early intervention of mental illness in infants and children.

Can we even diagnose mental illness in three year olds? And is it a good use of money?

Prevention and Early Intervention

 We as a community readily accept the concepts of prevention and early intervention in physical health. To prevent illness, we immunise our children. We try to detect diseases at an early stage by screening babies in utero and at birth, and as adults we go for cervical smears and mammograms.

Like physical illness, mental illness causes serious suffering, disability and even death. Depression alone will affect 20% of adults, and according to the World Health Organisation is the leading global cause of years of health lost to disease. Mental illness encompasses more than depression: when we add in anxiety, psychosis, and substance abuse the impact is staggering.

We can’t immunise against mental illness, but we can detect problems at an early stage and act on them.

Do mental health problems in young children even exist?

Yes, without a doubt. Studies show that 11%-18% of children under two have a mental health disorder. They don’t present in the same way as adults, but emotional and behavioural disturbances are common.

A quarter of people with a mental disorder experienced their first episode before the age of 12, and almost two-thirds before the age of 21.

Why should we screen for mental health problems in young children?

We can reliably diagnose many common disorders in young children. We know that emotional and behavioural disorders in childhood seriously harm a child’s development. A child who is displaying problems even before going to school will not be able to make friends, or learn, or develop a healthy self esteem. Problems will continue throughout adolescence and early adulthood. They will lack social and educational protective factors and be far more vulnerable to mental illness and substance abuse later in life.

Children with mental health issues are suffering, as are their families.

They are children. We need to do something.

Could the money be better used elsewhere?

 It’s a harsh reality that Australia has a limited budget and decisions must be made about where each health dollar is spent for the maximum impact. There is $11 million (over 5 years) earmarked for this project: a small amount in the grand scheme of things, really.

Children with emotional difficulties grow into adults with emotional difficulties and mental illness. There comes a time when we need to try to break the cycle. We can keep spending all the money on those people who have already developed mental illnesses, or we can try to allocate some of the budget to child and adolescent mental health, and make sure our children grow into healthy, resilient teenagers, adults, and parents.

Prevention is better than cure

There is no doubt that the entire public mental health system needs more money. Ideally, all Australians with mental health issues would be promptly assessed and have optimal access to community and hospital resources, regardless of their age, location or diagnosis.

But with the limited resources that we have, isn’t prevention better than cure? By intervening early in life, we can make sure that as our children grow up, the rates of mental illness in adults are reduced. Investing in the mental health of our young children now means that we can make a step towards improving the mental health of our adolescents, adults, and their own children.

 

References

 http://www.budget.gov.au/2011-12/content/glossy/health/html/health_overview_02.htm

 The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists: Report from the Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Prevention and early intervention of mental illness in infants, children and adolescents: Planning strategies for Australia and New Zealand, 2010

 

 

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