Jennifer Bryce

A Tribute on Vision Australia Radio

We’re slowly coming to terms with the enormous loss of our very dear friend and writing colleague Jennifer Bryce, who died on 27 April.

Jennifer co-founded Elwood Writers with Barry Lee Thompson in 2007. She achieved so much in her writing career, and was published widely in Australia and overseas.

Elwood Writers soiree, St Kilda Library, 25 August 2018 (photo: Harriet Claire Tarbuck)

Jennifer has written a broad range of fiction, both historical and contemporary, spanning themes such as loss, love, grieving, war, and the environment. The strength of her vision was a key driver in the production of the Elwood Writers anthology Every Second Tuesday. 2019 saw the publication of her debut novel, Lily Campbell’s Secret, launched at Readings in Carlton by Toni Jordan. Jenny’s follow-up novel had been successfully pitched to a publishing house, and the manuscript was under consideration at the time of her death. You can read more about Jenny’s work in her bio from this website – just click on the link here.

We’re honoured to have been invited by Tim McQueen of Vision Australia Radio (VAR) to create a special tribute, and this will be broadcast in Tim’s weekly literary program Cover to Cover. We’re working on the material now, and will showcase a selection of Jenny’s finest work. We’ll record at the studios of VAR in Melbourne in July, and the tribute will air soon after that. Details to follow as soon as they’re available.

Jenny is deeply missed by all who were fortunate to know her. For us, she will forever be the beating heart of Elwood Writers.

Currents: What I’m working on, by Jennifer Bryce

A couple of months ago I finished the manuscript of my second novel, working title Edith Ascending. Finished? I think we all know that a piece of writing is never ‘finished’. Even after my first novel was published and stacked on shelves within its beautiful cover, there were bits I wanted to rewrite – things I could have left out, things I could have added. But with Edith, I’d reached a stage where I needed to do something more than re-reading and tweaking. Fortunately this stage of my writing coincided with a program of Virtual Literary Speed Dating organised by the Australian Society of Authors (ASA).

Writers are aware that it is extremely hard to get commercially published in Australia if you are not well-known. But I wanted to give it a go. Get a literary agent? There are not many agents in Australia and most of them, it seems, don’t have room to take on new clients. The alternative is to trundle your manuscript around to publishers, hoping that one of them won’t assign your work to the slush pile.

If you are brave, Virtual Literary Speed Dating is another pathway to a publisher’s door. The ASA sets up a three-minute time-slot (on Zoom) where you can ‘sell’ your book to a publisher you’ve selected from a list of about 12 provided by ASA (some of these may not be suitable, for example if they mainly publish YA or children’s picture books). You have to be a member of ASA to participate.

I’d never before done any kind of speed dating, but the similarity with the more usual kind of dating is clear. Is this my kind of match? Do we like each other? Could we get along together?

I found the ASA very supportive. I attended a preliminary online workshop where there was advice about preparing for the three-minute presentation, including a suggested template for structuring your pitch. Spend 1½ minutes outlining what you want to pitch: genre, word count, brief synopsis and a selection of three or four similar books – I tried to select titles from the list of the publisher I was pitching to. Then 30 seconds on why you wrote the book: I was inspired by a particular composer, etc. And finally, 45 seconds about yourself (the most difficult): previous publications, writing courses you’ve taken, other publicity such as radio interviews.

I don’t know how many times I recorded myself practising my pitch, timing the presentation to within a microsecond! I discovered that you can look at the camera on your laptop whilst reading from notes stuck to the side of the screen – better than glancing down the screen to read a document and thus not looking straight at the camera. My colleagues from Elwood Writers were a huge support, both in suggestions for my synopsis and bio, and also in keeping the presentation enthusiastic.

It was all worthwhile. I think I was fortunate that the publisher’s representative who heard my pitch is interested in music and asked to read the whole manuscript, which is the best outcome I could hope for. This doesn’t mean that they will take on the publication, but it’s a step in that direction – a very pleasing result.