Young writer spotlight: Danielle Binks

Every now and then I’d like to introduce you to a young Victorian writer who has achieved some form of success through their writing. For the first of these posts, I spoke to Danielle Binks, a young writer whose short story came second in the 2011 John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers and who currently runs a successful book reviewing blog – ALPHA reader.

Danielle with John Marsden

Some people have always known they’ve wanted to write while others stumble across it far later in life. But young writer Danielle Binks falls into the former category, thanks to a great passion for books that took over at a young age.

“Mum and Omi (my grandma) ignited my love of books, and paved the way for me to be a writer,” she says. “It probably comes down to a nature VS. nurture debate – would I still have been a writer without my early bookish influences? I don’t know, but I’m forever thankful that books were a staple of my childhood.”

An encounter with Paul Jennings (the humorous children’s author responsible for the famous Round the Twist series) who visited her primary school and read to her class ultimately sealed the deal.

“I remember sitting in the back of the music room, hands over my mouth trying to suppress the giggles as I listened to him read aloud,” Danielle says. “That was the first time I’d ever put a face to a writer and there must have been a seismic shift going on, because to this day I can still remember Paul Jennings reading, and thinking that he was the best thing since Captain Planet.”

Last year, Danielle’s short story entry to the 2011 John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers came second – a huge accomplishment for any young writer.

“It was incredible. I entered on a whim and talked myself into forgetting all about it after I posted my entry … so it was a lovely shell-shocking surprise to be told I was on the shortlist,” she says.

One of the greatest competitions for young writers in the country, the John Marsden Prize is run by Express Media and accepts entries from writers under 25 in the form of a short story, first chapter or poem. Aside from some generous prize money, winners also get the opportunity to meet John Marsden, acclaimed author of the Tomorrow series, who also judges the shortlisted entries of the competition.

“Two great things came out of my being nominated in the John Marsden Prize,” Danielle says. “One was that many people (me included!) started taking my writing a little bit more seriously, and asking me what I intended to write next… and I got to meet John Marsden! Seriously, and from the bottom of my heart, that was a favourite moment for me.”

Danielle’s short story entry for the John Marsden Prize, titled ‘Abreast’, was written specifically with the competition in mind.

She says: “I read about the John Marsden Prize and it kept churning over in my head. And then on the Number 57 tram one day the opening line of ‘Abreast’ wafted out of the ether; ‘Lucy found the photo, and looked at her mum’s breasts for the first time. And I ran with the story from there. I put it down to the competition being in the back of my head, and my tram muse.”

She admits that writing a piece specifically with a competition in mind is far more likely to lead to competition success than submitting an old piece of re-edited writing.

“I submit my writing to so many competitions – and for everything that gets published or recognized, there are 10 more submissions that went into the bin. And that’s okay. Because I learn from every rejection, and I’m energized by everything else,” she says.

When it comes to the nitty gritty business of writing, she has managed to single out two of her worst enemies as time and self-editing.

“Finding the time to actually sit down and write is always a challenge, but it’s also a pretty good indicator of whether or not you’ve got the chops. People who want to write will find the time, no matter what,” she says. “My biggest internal problem when writing is probably self-editing…. Trying to stop self-editing is like talking yourself down from a ledge. What I’m trying to do is not rampantly hit backspace, but to tuck the offending bits of paragraph away somewhere and revisit them in a few days time.”

Aside from writing winning short stories, Danielle also manages her own blog, ALPHA reader, where she primarily reviews books. The decision to start a blog came as she was waiting for an acceptance to RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing Course. Inspired by some witty book blogs, she decided to start up her very own book reviewing club which she calls her “solo book club.”

“Luckily for me, I was accepted into ‘Writing and Editing’ and my blog turned into a great companion hobby to my studies,” she says. “While I was at RMIT I met some fantastic authors and teachers, and really developed as a writer – and at the same time, I took everything I was learning at RMIT and applied those lessons to my reviews.”

For Danielle, ALPHA Reader has become not only a fantastic opportunity to connect with other writers, but has also afforded her more opportunities for career growth.

“Through my blog I [get] to interview some wonderful authors, and really make a point of promoting Australian young adult authors– getting to pick their brains about how they write and what advice they have for budding young authors,” she says. “Now I know quite a few publicists, editors and I’ve made some fabulous author friends through my blog. And it’s also because of ALPHA reader that I was invited as guest judge in the Inkys this year, which has been a real blogging highlight for me.”

In the future, Danielle hopes to continue writing and is currently working through a manuscript. As someone who really seems to have their writing act together, she has some great advice for young writers looking to get their first piece of writing published and she certainly isn’t looking down at all you fanfiction writers.

“If you want to be a writer you’ve got to put yourself out there and do the hard-yards because the end-result of a publishing contract and five-book deal is very rarely attained without a lot of blood, sweat and ink behind it,” she says. “And I don’t think it matters how you put your writing out there– be it short story competitions, blogging, meeting with a writing group once a month or, heck, even fanfiction! There is a lot to be said for fanfiction – you generally get to hide behind an online pseudonym, but have your work very honestly (often harshly) critiqued and criticized. That’s probably a very good building block for entering future writing competitions and then submitting your manuscript to agents and publishing houses.”

Her final word?

“You shouldn’t just want to be a writer, you should want to write. Put pen to paper, fingertips to keyboard and write away!”

You can read Danielle’s winning entry over at Express Media. You can also check out her blog here and follow her on Twitter.

The closing date for entries to the 2012 John Marsden Prize is September 3rd. Check out Express Media for further details.

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