Come join me in getting to know Pauline Montanga this morning.
- Writing is such a challenging endeavour. What got you started on it and what keeps you doing it?
I have always wanted to work in a creative field. My first choice was publishing, but back in my day publishing was pretty much a closed shop if you didn’t go to the right schools or know the right people. I did a bit of acting at school so after completing university I attended drama school in the evenings and worked in amateur theatre, albeit mostly backstage. In the meantime I sent out resumes to film producers until I finally got a job in the production office during the Australian film industry’s heyday in the mid-1980s. Unless you’ve got the skin and stamina of a rhinoceros, the film industry is not a long term prospect, so I eventually returned to university to get my teaching qualifications.
I had always dabbled in writing, and once I got into computing the unfinished projects piled up and up. At university, I discovered that I was good at getting my assignments in on time and with good results (which hadn’t been the case when I went to uni the first time!) Soon after I finished my university studies I discovered a course called Professional Writing and Editing (PWE). With my new found confidence in my abilities, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to revive and complete some of those unfinished projects sitting idle on my computer.
I think what keeps me going with writing is that there’s no way back from here. I’ve tried everything else. My choices are make a go of this or go back to teaching and/or bookkeeping and I relish neither prospect.
- If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing career, what would be the most important scenes?
I think it would be the day I went into the Careers Centre and asked about getting a job in Publishing. The young university graduate who ran the place just laid into me. Who did I think I was wanting to get into publishing? She had an English honours degree and she couldn’t get into publishing. I walked out of there with my spirits crushed. I know I could have been a great editor and would probably be running a publishing house by now if I had had a modicum of encouragement, or even some good advice. By the time I did the PWE course, the publishing industry was well into its decline and I had long eschewed the corporate world. In fact, I want nothing to do with corporate publishing and am self-publishing.
- What did you do with your earliest efforts? Did anyone read them? Did you still have them?
My first effort was a 4 page play when I was 8 years old. It was about a princess in a tower waiting to be rescued by a prince. I doubt my mother read it. She certainly didn’t keep it.
My first effort at a novel was The Slave which I have published and is currently being serialised online for all the world to see. It would never make the NY Times best seller list, but no one’s totally trashed it yet.
- What made you choose to write in the genres/time periods you write in?
I have always loved history. I love reading about history. I love doing the research, and I love writing about it. I can’t be sure where this love comes from, but it may be because I was born in Australia, a country with very little history, while my roots are in Italy, a country with perhaps too much history.
What inspires particular stories could be something as fortuitous as a television documentary, or a book picked up at the library. I had no particular interest in Shakespeare until I picked up a book called Who Wrote Shakespeare? which introduced me to the whole, fascinating, Authorship debate. A couple of years later I saw the documentary Much Ado about Something, which put the Marlovian case. Between the two they got me thinking about how Shakespeare developed as a writer and what the relationship between him and Marlowe might have been.
More recently, though, my writing has been inspired by a need to know more. As I dig deeper into my subject, I discover stories which I just have to tell or bust. The Stuff of Dreams is an example. As you can imagine, taking on two of the greatest writers in the English language can be daunting, and for a while I put the whole project aside, afraid I wasn’t up to it. But the story wouldn’t let me go and in the end I had to drop everything else and take it up again.
- What do you enjoy most in the writing process? What parts of it do you really dislike?
I love the research. My best summer ever was the one I spent in the State Library of Victoria doing the preliminary research for my current series. You can almost hear the neurons firing as you go from one book to the other, making leaps here and connections there. There’s nothing better.
I also love the writing itself when I’m ”in the zone” so to speak, when I know what I want to say and it’s flowing freely. However, right at the moment, that experience is a distant memory. What I dislike most about writing is when the doubts press in and you feel totally stymied. I guess it’s a bit like that feeling of panic you must get when you’re halfway up a steep cliff and you suddenly lose your nerve and can neither continue up nor go back down. That’s where I am right now. All that keeps me going is the daily routine of my social media campaign, though I’ve lost sight of its actual purpose.
- If you write in multiple genres how do you make the switch from one to the other? Do you find it a welcome change, crazy-making or a little of both?
I’ve written several novelettes in a variety of genres – mysteries and historical and contemporary romances – destined to be published in as yet to be completed series. I do enjoy the variety, and sometimes it’s good to forget about one story and let it brew subconsciously while you work on another.
- Historical fiction takes a lot of research. What is the most memorable or interesting thing you’ve learned along the way?
I’ve learnt too many things to list, but I have certainly found the research into Shakespeare, Marlowe and the Elizabethan theatre very rewarding. Perhaps the most intriguing thing I discovered was the history of James Burbage, Richard Burbage’s father. He built London’s first purpose built playhouse and was involved in a protracted dispute with his business partner’s widow. The whole, tangled story was fascinating. (It’s all in my blog.)
- What do you to keep all your research information and plot ideas organized and accessible?
Since I have to do most of my research in public libraries, rather than bring in my laptop, I take it all down by hand in notebooks. Since my research style can be rather eclectic, I then have to go through each one and write a table of contents inside the back cover. Otherwise everything is kept in neat folders in my computer, and, when I remember, backed up to an external hard drive.
- What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
A few of the old clichés still apply:
- Don’t give up your day job.
- Be ready to kill your babies
- A novel is never finished. You just stop working on it.
I’ve taken heed of 2 & 3, and perhaps I should have taken more heed of no 1.
- What have been your most memorable experiences along the way?
Getting to know and work with other writers.
- Tell us a little about your current project.
My current project is a four-part series called The Stuff of Dreams about William Shakespeare and the experiences and relationships that made him the great writer he became. I’ve published the first volume, Not Wisely but Too Well, but it is currently off the market for re-writes. Its return will be announced on my website at http://paulinemontagna.net/. In the meantime you can probe into my research at The Stuff of Dreams blog http://stuffofdreamsseries.blogspot.com.au/.
- What’s up next for you?
Hopefully, reissuing Not Wisely and completing the series.
You can find Pauline at: