Fifty Shades of Syntax: Q&A with Alayna Cole

Alayna is a fourth year university student, writer, and currently manages the Needle In The Hay tumblr. She’s been gracious enough to answer a few questions, so here we go.

Martin: Tell us a little about the novel you’re working on. What’s it about? Who are the main characters?

Alayna: My novel is titled ‘Elymas’ and it’s about a girl named Lily who is in her early twenties and is generally disillusioned by where her life is going. When the circus comes to town, a mysterious man, who introduces himself only as ‘The Magician’, asks her to run away with him and become his beautiful assistant. Lily embarks on an adventure and, as events unfold, is left to decide whether this new life is better than the one she left behind. I’m currently editing my novel for the sixth time – I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it, really.

Sixth edit? Some writers we know (myself included) barely pass over their work a second time. What advice do you have to give about the editing process, and why it’s valuable?

Editing is incredibly important! I don’t have a golden rule for how many times someone should go over their work – it differs from person to person and piece to piece – but I always redraft at least once. The longer the piece, the more I edit, because more words means more room to accidentally create structural issues such as inconsistencies in plot and character development. That means this 70,000+ word novel has received plenty of attention! Even during this rewrite, I’m marking issues that I’ll need to look at in more detail on my seventh edit. I’m red-inking less each time I read through it, but I’m still polishing it, ensuring that I’ve removed anything that is unnecessary to the story, that my characters are believable, that there aren’t any ‘dead spots’ and that my syntax is perfect.

You’re also working on short stories, competitions. What’s it like for a young writer right now?

I had a conversation with Nick Earls a year ago about my novel and my aspirations to become a writer, and he encouraged me to enter every competition I could find and to submit to publications that were interested in stories from unpublished writers. He told me that winning competitions and having smaller pieces published was going to help me if I wanted to be taken seriously when approaching literary agents and publishers for my larger projects. Ever since then, I have been doing just that – if it pops up on my radar, I’ll enter it. I currently have eight pieces in a variety of styles and genres being judged for competitions or considered for publications, and I’m submitting new pieces all the time. Hopefully I’ll strike gold with some of those!

As for what it’s like for a young writer: it’s slow-going. But what I keep reminding myself is that I have to start somewhere and that a lot of people my age don’t even know what they want to do with their life yet. I’m only 20 – the success I’ve received so far has been fantastic and I have plenty of years to achieve even more. Resources for emerging writers of any age are really helpful and easy to find – Writers’ Centres are a great place to start finding tips, tricks, seminars, competitions and opportunities. The Queensland Writers’ Centre WQ Magazine has helped me immensely with getting started.

Your non-fiction work, tell us a little about that.

I’m currently in my fourth and final year studying a Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts (English), and through these degrees I have not only done plenty of creative writing, but have also honed my skills in literary analysis and sociological analysis. These skills, as well as my passion for educating, inspired what is currently my largest non-fiction project. I’m working on a novel-length non-fiction analysis and critique of the infamous ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Basically I’m looking at it through a few different lenses, commenting on the following: fallacies about consent, sexual anatomy, sexual practices, BDSM relationships and abusive relationships; inconsistencies in plot and character development; issues with syntax, poorly-constructed imagery and inclusion of clichés; and mechanical errors that were missed in the editing.

As you can see, I’m looking at some very ‘big’ issues with the text as well as much ‘smaller’ ones, and I have tried to do this with a sense of humour so that the finished work is accessible to people who wouldn’t usually find themselves reading a literary analysis. That’s particularly important to me – so many people read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and I want those same people to read my work so I can correct some of the misconceptions the original work helped to propagate.

What’s on the immediate horizon? What do you hope to have finished by the end of 2014?

This is a big year for me and my writing. My highest priority is to finish this edit of ‘Elymas’, and I’m hoping to have that done by the end of this month so I can pass it on to be edited by a new set of eyes. By the end of 2014 I’m hoping to have created a polished manuscript (finally) using those edits.

By the end of the year I also want to have my ‘Fifty Shades of Fifty Shades’ first draft complete, have a few more publications and competition wins under my belt, and have successfully acquired these two undergraduate degrees that I’ve nearly completed! Next year I should be looking at postgraduate study and I’m thinking about using NaNoWriMo in November to draft my thesis idea, so I suppose I want to have that draft done by the end of 2014 as well.


2 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Syntax: Q&A with Alayna Cole

  1. Thanks Martin for sharing my story. I hope my current projects are of interest to some members of the NitH community!

    1. Well I’m definitely interested. Hope I can read the 50 shades critique sometime 🙂

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