Category Archives: My Writing Inspiration

Flash Fiction

30 days of flash fiction

April this year, I took part in the Writers Victoria 30 Day Flash Fiction Challenge. 9:00 each morning, I received a one-word prompt, which was a fab way of forcing my brain into the writing zone. Some days, I wished it would arrive much earlier, so I could lie in the luxury of bed dreaming up a new short story before facing the office. Wishes aside, I set about crafting my flash fiction, which had to be whittled down to exactly thirty words – no more, no less. Each entry then had to be tweeted before close of business. Of course, I’m impatient and wanted the job done and dusted ASAP, so I could get on with my day.

A thirty-word story didn’t seem that difficult at the outset, but when those words have to convey meaning, a story arc, character and scene, each freaking letter counted.

My efforts paid off on day thirteen, when my entry was chosen as the winner for the day. I won’t lie. It was a tiny thrill.

Here are my thirty entries tweeted to: #WVFlashFic @Writers_Vic #word

Pearl

It wasn’t real, but she wore it because it made him smile. She liked the fragility of it in her fingers, knowing the power and acidity of a careless heart.

Perfectionism

She lays the t-shirt flat, runs a hand to ease wrinkles, reshape. The iron hisses and she grits, pulling at the corners, the goddamn seams that refuse to line up.

Treasure

Fresh to this foreign world, each furred and clawed bundle blindly bulldozes past siblings – unconscious sacrifice – searching, sensing, padding, prodding, inherent primal instinct a suckling magnet to mother’s milky bounty.

Nacreous

Muculent lumps showcased on luminescence. Beast and beauty. Try one. He stabbed it with a tiny fork, pressed her clamped lips. Enhances sex, he hinted. Neither initiation was happening tonight.

Iridescent

How the fleeting bubbles, glinting rainbows in the sun, made her eyes widen, sparkle beneath those dark lashes, too long, too lush, while dimpled hands reached and crushed worlds within.

Remember

Two hundred and six bones, lost in a field of war and clay. His smile, his touch, his promise, held within a failing heart, far across the sea. Never dulled.

Transform

When she’d started, she could barely touch her toes. She’d focused, sweated, swore, sacrificed, cried even. Now she could touch the sky, only to realise there was nothing to grasp.

Celebrate

It crept up inside her, a hatchling chick pecking at the crust of her scepticism, hope bound tight as he opened the file. ‘Negative.’ Her relief burst in breathless gratitude.

Inventive

Grandmother’s lace tablecloth, antique; her sister’s ribbons, worn on summer days; mother’s precious brooch, fragile, tarnished; wildflowers in her hair. She wore the love of her womenfolk to her marriage.

 Beginning

He shifts, uncomfortable in his body, closes his eyes with fragile determination. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow he will take control, be accountable. Midnight, he wakes and opens the fridge.

Lustre

He rubbed at it, the gold patina, faded along with their lives. Neither had ever removed them. Even now, though flowers, tears and soil separated their bodies, they remained undivided.

Despair

She ached for his mouth, pulling at her breast; keened for his tiny fingers, curling with ecstasy; his fragility, warmly bundled against hers, against the endless cold that stole him.

Precious

She stares, imagines its ears twitching, its nose. Last year she didn’t wait, and it was gone in minutes. This year, she would devour the bunny with her eyes first.

Tenacity

On the verge, a last breath. Let go? All that’s led to now, wasted? Push. Push. Nothing gives. Go under, go around, go over. ‘Go through,’ you say. Experience. Surrender.

Blunder

He didn’t know his heart could bleed. Yet, here it was, dripping, exposed, victim of a rampant rage of misunderstanding. How? He’d spoken so carefully, so specifically. Fucking Dragon Dictate.

Tears

I’d long expected it; it was second-hand, probably third even, the weave having grown finer with each wash, though lately I’d handled it as carefully as a prayer, albeit unanswered.

Gloss

Mike wakes. Harsh light, blue curtain, stethoscope. Fogginess for a moment, then clarity. A slip. A thud, crack. Margie has a ‘told-you-so’ look. Should have used matt tiles.

Layers

In her final hours, she reveals her truth: the vulnerable child who became the crone, who never forgave, never accepted, loved. I touch her hand. I am not my mother. 

19. Wild

It had fastened its suckers to the brickwork, like a thousand millipedes clawing upwards. Mary said there was decay. We heaved, tore, leaving nothing but a memory, a ghostly imprint.

Trapped

Bracken scratches as she weaves towards watery murmuring, a jarring slip in steep mud, catches herself. A moment to breathe, leans forward, satisfied. A flash of silver in her net.

Shell

Charlie was the shyest. They would crawl over him, their spidery mechanical legs straddling him, slipping down the dome of his carapace, while he sat retracted, obstinate. A true hermit.

Imitation

Her tiny feet wobble inside giant shoes as she scoots along the carpet, lipstick smeared across her concentration, an earring tangled in her hair. She stops, beams her mother’s grin.

Baroque

Hangdog eyes, tortured posture and ragged clothing, he stung our privileged consciences, eked our last tourist dollars, coins. His gratitude: a gold-laden grin, blingy enough to gild Shakespeare’s painted lily.

Saltwater

She’s been lying so long crystals have formed on her skin. Crinkling in the folds of her elbows, knees, crunchy under her nails. A garment of the ocean’s dried tears.

Freedom

While he was away, she could breathe. Now, driving to the airport still soaked in a last night of freedom’s wine, she tightened her decision like a wall of muscle.

Rare

Her notes are a soft waterfall, each velvet drop easing through my pores, an osmotic symphony, filtering joy to my hollowed senses. Singularly sweet. Can I die from musical diabetes?

Freshwater

He loves to tease the tourists. ‘Prehistoric reptile,’ he says. ‘Lived here all its life. Swim anyone?’ I dive in. Eleven years and yet to witness the shy, harmless freshie.

Diving

The last one jumps in. Just me and the captain now, abandoned to the breaking bubbles. ‘Nothing down there that’ll hurt you,’ he tries again. I smile, yearn, back away.

Irritation

Can’t believe I missed this one. Too busy having a cervical MRI.

Grit

Teensy particles between her fingers, finer than sugar grit, sprinkled, powdery. A careful touch to her tongue. Indiscernible? Perfect! It would be served intimately, generously, with a terminally sweet smile.


Hardcopy-2018-autumn-1

Hardcopy 2018 – autumn in Canberra

I laughed in shock and wobbly excitement when Nigel Featherstone’s email dropped into my inbox, offering me a placement at Hardcopy 2018.

If you haven’t heard of it, Hardcopy is a professional development program for Australian writers, run by the ACT Writers Centre at the National Library of Australia. The program is held yearly (alternating between fiction and non-fiction) and consists of three long weekends in Canberra, stretching from May to November. This year is fiction.

Surviving my usual stress-head apprehension of just getting out of the house and into the airport for a glass of nerve-calming cider, I attended the first session — three days of intensive master classes on the craft of writing, presented by the amazingly knowledgeable Nadine Davidoff.

For someone who suffers from social anxiety (you’d never know because I’m so blabby on-line and have been a professional singer for years), being thrown into a room of thirty-six strangers (including several digital attendees watching from afar — a first for the program this year) was intense, confronting and invigorating. Yet, by lunchtime on the first day, I knew I was breaking literary bread with a group of welcoming, kind and talented writers. Of course I was.

The masterclass itself, as with most programs of this kind, commenced with an open group exchange — who we were, what we were working on — before diving into Nadine’s presentation. The first hour of discussion was filled by those more cleverly articulate and less introverted than the rest of us. I’m sure my eyes weren’t the only ones averted as Nadine asked for input. But as the day progressed, Nadine encouraged each of us to share. (Nadine has an amazing memory for names. I’m so jealous. I’ll remember a face, but name? Forget it. I have trouble remembering my own.)

The room held respect: everybody listened, nobody spoke over another and all mobile devices were out of sight. This class was gold, we didn’t want to miss a second of it.

Prior to the weekend, Nigel Featherstone (a softly spoken, generous individual who administers the program) had divided us into on-line workshop groups of five, with whom we swapped extracts of our manuscripts. This was a clever icebreaker and meant we had four people we could gravitate to on arrival. Although networking is touted as a feature of the program, from the outset I knew I wasn’t going to connect with every writer — that was never my intention; it takes me time to let my guard down, though I could see others had a set agenda of ferocious networking. Kudos to them.

Apart from touching base with my workshop group, I chose to take a step back, yet be open and trusting that I would connect with those I was meant to. My focus was on the work itself. I chose to spend my first lunch break wandering off on my own, taking fresh air, sunshine and snapshots around lake Burley Griffin. However, we were encouraged to socialise, so Saturday night a large group of us went to a local pub. I’m glad we did. Apart from getting to know half a dozen writers a little more intimately, I met a gorgeous unicorn of a writer — someone unique, colourful and sweet.

Is it wrong to say it was a relief to see so many writers, who seemed to have their shit together, still suffering from imposter syndrome?

Sleep was caught between bursts of insight and inspiration. When I woke, I wondered if it was time to get up for the next class. Nope. Still dark. Oh, come on already! One morning, I had a pre-sunrise Netflix binge to coerce my mind into letting my body relax. I’d fallen in love again, with story, words, nuance and not wasting a moment of this opportunity. I found myself missing session breaks to share ideas, insecurities and thoughts with other writers  — thoughts that developed overnight and became obsessive.

Coming from a background of study in professional writing and editing, I found a lot of material we covered was, of course, familiar ground for me. But, as I had anticipated, now that I’ve had a few years’ hands-on experience, become an accredited editor and worked heavily on clients’ manuscripts, as well as my own, the information held more depth of meaning for me — light bulb realisations and confirmations were sweet, like the plates of rainbow mini jellybeans on our tables, which everyone, including myself, stared at longingly but didn’t touch until late afternoon. Sigh.

Some of Nadine’s truths were confidence boosting, settling gut instincts or prior learning into concrete foundations. Others windexed dust-crusted windows I’d been peering through, unable to quite grasp the techniques or philosophies I’d been glimpsing, and perhaps framing misinformed opinions on.

My biggest takeaway? The ‘Question’. We were asked to make a list of questions our stories might be asking. Aha! Easy. I’m already an expert on this. Over the past four and a half years, I’ve worked out a million questions my manuscript is asking. Deciding which mother is ‘the’ question is the hard part. But I found it. I freaking found it! Or maybe it found me — it exploded into my head. Just like that. God. Sweet relief. I’m hanging onto that little cherry until I’m ready to jump on the horrid marketing wagon.

I’m sure, now that the shock of being jerked out of my comfort zone has passed, being marinated in such a rich and rewarding program has seasoned my writing and editing chops. I’ve made a commitment, a promise to myself, to stop neglecting my own writing, to stop de-prioritising myself, to stop letting my cups of tea or coffee go cold, and to make a daily appointment with myself and my manuscript, or at the very least a blog, and to never again lose my love of writing. A big ask. Life is life. I know I’ll not stringently keep the promise; creativity is shitty like that when you have to earn a living, but the intention will hopefully stay fired up until September, when we’ll do it all again with industry workshops.

For now, I’ll not think about November and whether I’ll be amongst those brave enough to submit their manuscripts and souls, only to be culled from thirty-six to ten. Those final ten, like valiant lemmings, will follow each other over the excruciating cliff face of publisher and agent critiques. Fly lemmings, fly.

*Mass suicide of lemmings is an urban myth.

*Thank you to Deb Flemming, Malini Devadas and David Lole for welcoming me to your stunningly fresh, spare city, with car rides, delicious food and company. And to my Chris for never questioning.

Image source: AJ Collins, 2018

Editing: A Strange Life

Editing is a strange life

Editing is a strange life

Any writer knows that the creative mind is a tenuous friend, given to disappearing just when you need it most. You think you’ll never speak again, that the relationship has desiccated into a hot crumbly mess you could use as chili flakes. But then, like a cool fifty bucks you find in the pocket lining of your favourite jacket, your friend, your motivation, creativity, angel, muse — whatever you like to call it — comes sneaking up from the land of who-knows-where and suddenly you remember why you’re a writer. Editing is seen as different — the sobre part of the process. But it’s just as easy to lose yourself.

Freelance Editing is solitary. You forget the time and day. You forget what you did yesterday, what you did this morning. The only thing you never forget is there’s chocolate and coffee in the kitchen (red wine anyone?).  And since I’m an adult, how I take my breakfast caffeine is my business.

Being trusted with someone else’s work is also strange. Editing isn’t the black and white, right or wrong, clickity-clack straight railway line job people often perceive it to be.

‘Really? You’re an editor? What do you do? Fix spelling and grammar and stuff?’

‘Sure. But there’s also syntax, and voice — the personality of the author or narrator that shines through the text. There’s meaning — what are they trying to say? There’s arcs — story and character. For non-fiction, there’s flow and fact. How does it all hang together? And there’s the author themselves to consider: how you communicate with them without breaking their spirit.’

*pause to check the person is still awake*

‘There’s a subtlety involved. It’s subjective and rule bendy. It’s a tightrope walk: you’re dealing with someone else’s energy, their hopes, their passion. Sometimes a manuscript is akin to a first child.’

‘Zzzzz.’

‘Hello? You still there?’

Chops are tough. Not the meat kind, the Kill Your Darlings kind. Cut, cuts, cuts. Even though you know words have to go because they’re repetitive, or misused, or misplaced, or they drag the pace into a pit of no return, the process can be uncomfortable. Yes, cuts make the text and story tighter, and therefore give the manuscript a better chance of getting published (and that’s what we’re paid to do), but there’s also a chance the cuts are going to whack a sensitive author’s ego over the head with a wet fish. A large, smelly, heavy tuna fish. The upside is, if you handle that fish gently (perhaps fillet it before serving) the author will get over it and on with it, and show their appreciation.

Handling authors gently is a talent in itself. In my first year of study, I thought it would be fun to insert some humour into my feedback comments on an author’s manuscript. I didn’t personally know the author I was assigned to, and as it turned out she took great offence. It made me stop and reflect how I would’ve felt receiving that kind of feedback in my early days of writing. I subsequently apologised, several times. Luckily she’s a gracious person and we’re still friends. Lesson learnt. Gently does it.

Clear Communication: I’m probably an over-communicator. I need to know the author understands exactly what I’m doing for them. Even if it’s not what they’ve initially asked for — because I’ve had to extrapolate what they actually need done. My worst nightmare is a client getting their manuscript back and going WTH????? To avoid this, I respond to each client in writing, laying out exactly what we’ve verbally agreed on: the type of editing required, the word count, rates, expected completion dates and response times. It’s a fail-safe for down the track, especially if the direction of the project changes along the way.

Don’t Hide. When I was starting out, my first project was a piece of cake: fiction with a clear story that only needed a light line edit, plus a tad of structural editing. My second project was enormous and I accepted it not realising the time frame I quoted was way out of whack with the amount of work required. Apart from giving a fixed price and doing myself out of quite a few hundred dollars, I was feeling stressed because of the time it was taking me — it was a clever and complex story but with an unusual and inconsistent voice that required nearly every line to be edited. To counteract my fears of ruining my reputation (by missing the deadline and disappointing my client), I kept in constant contact with him, being honest about the work I was doing and the time it was taking: I wanted to be thorough and not rush through. Being honest paid off and his appreciation for being kept in the loop meant there was no annoyance. This took an enormous pressure off me.

Boundaries. I have a setting on my phone that cuts off communication between certain hours. It’s easy for an author who’s in a panic to forget what time it is, or what day it is (sound familiar). I tell them my hours of availability, my response time, and I stick to them. Sometimes it takes a bit of training, on both sides … I’ll just check my emails after dinner … wham! I’m thinking about my client’s curly question all night. Occasionally, I need to send a gentle reminder when a client is persistent. If I’m clever I can give them a distraction to keep their ferreting brains, or need for approval, at peace — a research project, or clarification of something unclear in their text.

Content is a personal decision. Sometimes a project might go against the grain of your beliefs, knowledge or advice. I once turned down an edit on a manuscript because I felt the content appeared to be misogynistic. It surprised me how strongly I felt about it. I pondered whether to be honest with the prospective client, or make up an excuse as to why I couldn’t do it. I chose honesty. Luckily, the author was an intelligent person and went away to reconsider his angle. He came back to me with a completely different manuscript and we developed an open, on-going working relationship (insert happy sigh here).

So it’s a strange life I’ve chosen. And if you’ve chosen it too, whether you’re a writer or an editor, like most creatives, you probably doubt yourself daily, or wonder where your next job will come from. When things are rolling along nicely and you have a mountain of work, you allow yourself to smile, to love what you do. When things are uncertain and you feel like a fraud, tell yourself:

Be patient.

Be brave.

Be yourself.

Strange is good.

 


Elderly person's hand

Wringing pain into writing

Wringing Pain into Writing: Many writers question whether they should take advantage of witnessed pain by incorporating their family or friends’ stories into their writing. Helen Garner is famous for it in ‘The Spare Room’. Lee Kofman has just released a glaringly honest account of her personal relationships in ‘The Dangerous Bride‘. I’ve been facing this dilemma recently with my own work, even though in my case I write fiction.

For my family, it’s a time rife with guilt, helplessness, yet humour. Guilt because we’re wondering if we’ve given up too early, helplessness because we simply don’t know what else could be done, humour because it’s the only way to cope.

Today, my father and I are transferring Mum, my step-mother, to a hospice. She won’t be coming back home. She has dementia. This is my father’s third marriage (my natural mother and first step-mother both died of cancer.) Current Mum has survived cancer too, only to succumb to this insidious disease.

The hospice is as nice as any modern, fresh, spacious and clean hospice can be, but it’s not home. Mum stalls outside her room. ‘No. No.’ It’s not hers. She doesn’t want it. Dad points to the picture of a collie dog on her door. Mum used to have a collie, Jordan. There’s a hint of recognition. Kathy, the hospice manager encourages Mum to come inside and look out the window — there’s a koala statue just outside, in the garden. Child-like, Mum shuffles in, coos at the window, then walks back out to the corridor.

While Dad retrieves her clothes and belongings from the car, I lead Mum outside to a grassy fenced-in garden. I’m grateful she’s distracted by the chicken and kangaroo statues. But her attention span is short and, tired of exploring, she wanders back inside to roam the corridors, eyes wide and mouth constantly working. ‘Where’s Dad?’ she asks. She no longer recognises that she has a husband.

We sit at a dining table with Kathy. Two other elderly residents sit across from us in the lounge, one inert in a recliner the other shifting her eyes between the television and us newcomers. There are plastic placemats with pictures of animals and birds. I move one with horses in front of Mum. In broken dialogue she manages to convey she used to ride horses on the sheep station where she grew up. Dad and I joke that I may be causing an upset if the residents come to dinner and find their placemats have been shifted.

We drink instant coffee while Kathy explains the admission procedure. She assures us that Mum will settle in after a week. It’s heart-breaking watching Mum stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, pick at things, wander the halls, ask to go home, stand up, sit down, grimace, wander the corridors again, ask to go home, try to open doors too heavy for her. Her mouth still works, her hands wring each other. Her expression is one of confusion and … panic? It’s hard to know what her damaged brain is processing.

Kathy is softly spoken. She offers us sympathy. ‘It’s a difficult time for you all. You’ll be feeling a lot of emotions, including guilt. Be kind to yourselves.’ At this point, I grit my teeth, force my face to freeze and picture my heart as a small, solid, steel box. Don’t be nice to us or I’ll cry. I swallow and ask about the DNR form she mentioned earlier. Practical. Be practical. Be strong.

The discussion dwindles to awkward glances of ‘do we leave now?’ We sneak away so as not to panic Mum. We’re heavy with a fusion of relief, self-loathing and sadness mixed with a clutching hope that we are doing the right thing. And if we are, why do we feel like cowards?

Conflicting emotions

What does a writer do with this emotional miasma? I’m doing it ‘write’ now. I’ve known this day was coming: years, when it was an early prognosis with a distant, inevitable end; months, when the insidious symptoms were too obvious to ignore; weeks, when I kept hoping for a reprieve from this horrible looming moment.

I experienced first-hand some of the cliches of Mum’s disease — the trembling hands and body, the half-formed sentences, the child-like tantrums and sudden joys at delusional imaginings. But from my father, I heard of more awkwardly embarrassing moments like pants being dropped in supermarkets, or unsettling yelling matches with ‘the people in the mirror’. I’m thankful I didn’t witness that; it would have touched some deep element of fear in me — is she seeing people from the ‘other side’? Or is it a basic symptom of brain malfunction? Either way, it’s confronting and terrifying.

So I observed, I stored away details, I derailed my emotions by incorporating them into the written word of my manuscript (an older YA fiction novel currently under submission). In the final stages of writing, it stunned me to know that life had handed me the missing pieces — the bits that coalesced the story, that solidified the characters and their relationships like an egg binds the ingredients of a cake, like the surface tension of a drop of water retains the liquid in one, whole, complete form. It was up to me to be brave enough to incorporate this ugly gift.

So I’m here now, with Dad, facing what we fear. And while I feel like a twig, offering miniscule support, my father is somehow surviving this constant tide of unfair crap life has handed him. And I see him as a sack of steel bearings: on the outside, he’s soft, malleable, worn down, world weary. On the inside, he’s intensely resilient, smiling for those of us that need it, placing one foot in front of the other to push through the shit life is throwing at him. Again. And Again.

And it’s only now I realise that this one day I’ve been dreading, the day I thought was the end, is only the beginning. For, like Noah Calhoun in The Notebook, my father will now have to sustain visits with a woman he loves dearly, a woman who will break his heart a little more each day, a woman who will swim in and out of reality and eventually lose whatever recognition she has of him.

Capitalising on Pain

And so it is for the teenage protagonist in my book: I gave Lauren’s mother dementia too. That’s a powerful, yet scary thing to say. While it’s not the core of the story, on one hand I feel like I’ve capitalised on my parent’s misfortune; on the other, I feel like I’m honouring their lives by sharing the deep ache of their lives.

Yes, there’s a risk that I may upset some family members by exploiting this horrible situation, but like many writers before me, I take a breath and move forward with unease. I steel myself by recognising that it’s a necessary step to making my writing resonate, and to perhaps showing other people who are suffering similar family tragedies that they’re not alone. That it’s okay to be frightened, to sometimes drop the ball, to ask for help, to learn and not fear the moment at hand. To know that you will survive and grow stronger than you think you are.

Otherwise, what’s the point of all this pain?

*Image source: Pixabay, Sabine van Erp, Nederland

speed_date

Speed dating demons

I’m about to face my demons

This week I have cut myself off. From everyone and everything not writing related. It’s intense, euphoric and gloriously selfish. A week of me. A week of solid writing. Why? Preparation for today’s speed dating session. Not the romantic kind, but the literary, heart-stopping kind where I will put my passion on the line.

Held by Writers Victoria at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, the two hour session is an opportunity to pitch to ten major players. All I will have is a strict, three minute, face to face, opportunity with each publisher, to make them fall in love with my novel. Then I will hold my breath and watch carefully for their reaction.

It’s a confronting idea: I’ve spent the last six years thinking I can write. I’ve spent the last three years actually learning how to write. I’ve spent the last year and half working on my current manuscript and hardly contributing the household finances. Bless my dear husband.

This week I barely sleep. Character dialogue is like endlesss chatter in my mind, flawless chapters seem to develop huge plot holes, and one night I stay up until 6 a.m. writing because my character won’t shut up and she warns her words will disappear if I don’t get them into my computer right now.

One thing keeps running through my head. One frustrating, self-defeating thought: I have no idea what the core of my story is. I have no idea how to verbally encapsulate the essence of it in a one (maximum two) sentence logline. I need twenty sentences. Thirty. Forty. But I’m required to deliver it succinctly, and then give the whole story’s outline in less than fifty seconds. One minute in total. (We will need the other two minutes to answer questions).

I write, rewrite, ditch it all, write again, swap pitches, get and give feedback, and all I’m doing is making minute changes to the same logline and pitch. I know the truth is buried in there somewhere; it just won’t come to me. Don’t they understand there’s more to this novel than can be captured in one freakin’ sentence?

The story has changed form, characters have come and go, storylines have twisted so far I’ve have to rein them back to reality. Where the hell was I heading in the first place? Not where I’ve ended up. And it’s not even finished!

It takes remembering one comment during an earlier hefty discussion with my weekly workshop group (I’m an addict for having my chapters read and torn apart — okay, questioned in intricate detail by other authors like myself and then sulking for a week before I realise they’re right in their assessment) for the light to go on. It’s all so simple and one wonderfully insightful friend has said it already: ‘Lauren blames herself.’

It all falls into place. Thank you. Thank You!

The day is here. And I’m too excited to be nervous. I’ve gone to ridiculous lengths: I’ve learnt my logline and pitch by heart (though in the actual moment I’m so glad to have it on paper in front of me). I have put together awesome packages ready with my CV, pitch, synopsis and first five chapters — just in case.

While I wait in queues to see each publisher, I chat with other wannabes. It’s a great way to not lose my head because everyone here is just as invested as I am. All these (mostly) women have given their moments of stolen time to write. They all want the same thing: my publishing contract.

I take a seat with my first victim. She stops me twenty seconds into my pitch to tell me she needs to know the age of my protagonist up front. Rookie mistake. I thank her and keep ploughing. She says it’s a great plot but her policy is not to look at anything until the novel is complete. She says I should enter their YA competition when it opens early next year. She doesn’t give me her business card. I think I’ve been brushed off.

My next victim says she likes my pitch very much and she will keep it to read over again later. She’ll get back to me if she’s interested. Still no card though I’m feeling a little more hopeful.

My third try strikes gold. The publisher loves it. She wants to read me. I leave her table feeling like I have a golden ticket in my hand (it’s not, it’s her regular business card).

Fourth victim: I can’t really remember; I’m too high from the success of last one. I think this publisher liked it, she sounded interested. Told me to enter their YA competition. Wait. Was that another brush off? I wasn’t really listening. Did I say I was still high?

Fifth victim: ‘That’s an excellent pitch. I’m going to hand it over to our YA department.’

And bang! Time is up. Another four publishers and one agent sits untapped, probably as exhausted as the rest of us hopefuls. Now it’s the waiting game: waiting for the response from the big one, waiting for the other two possibilities to follow through (if they ever do), waiting for my protagonist to tell me if she wants to change her ending again: happy, heartbroken, or independently triumphant.

I’ve put my heart out there. It might come back chewed up and spat out, it might come back glowing with possibility. And if it does, the next round of waiting and hoping begins. Baby steps of agonised hope. There’s nothing to do now but keep writing.


diamonds_writing_process_blog_hope

The writing process – blog hop

Diamonds don’t start out shiny

My gorgeous friend and fellow scribe, Nicole Hayes, author of YA novel Whole of My World, has asked me to participate in a Blog Hop, called ‘The Writing Process’.

I thought it might be a good opportunity for some introspective examination — a pause to stop, breathe, and look where I am — so here are the four simple questions accompanied by my, hopefully not too waffly, answers.

1. What am I working on?

Oh god! What am I not working on?

• Literary Fiction: a novel based on the universal and ever-present need for parental approval.

• YA Fiction: a coming of age story about an abused young girl learning to face her fear of relationships as she moves into adulthood.

• Adult Thriller: abduction and slavery in the South Seas.

• Romance: love set in the turbulence of cyclonic Far North Queensland.

• Plus: copywriting, blogs, the odd short story, website content, articles, plus my editing and proofreading work. I think I just ran out of breath there.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Okay, I was asked this question in last week and I had a crap answer then, but I’m sticking to it anyway: it’s hard to define because I’m enjoying a tasting plate of genres to find out what my favourite flavour is. I have, however, heard it said again and again that there are no new stories; the difference lies in how the stories are told. So I’m leaning towards what differentiates authors themselves: their voices. I’m either grabbed from the start or it’s not worth persisting with the struggle. That’s a scary thing, knowing you have to snaffle a reader with your very first words.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because I’m a little crazy (all writers are IMO) and it’s in my nature to stretch myself. Over time I’ve learned to trust that path. Being brave enough to write the truth of our experiences, painful or joyful, embroidered in fictional characters or made bare in factual narratives, makes the writing real for others to experience. It works, it flows. Resisting the truth arrests the story. Ooh can I quote that?

4. How does my writing process work?

I’m a polisher. I can’t move on until my words, diamonds in the rough, have a reasonable shine. That doesn’t mean my words won’t get rewritten next time I read them. I’m a literary bottle of Mr Sheen and the words are never shiny enough.

That’s it. I’m done. Next Monday I’m passing the literary baton to one of my heroes and tutors at RMIT: Simmone Howell, author of Girl Defective, Notes from the Teenage Underground and Everything Beautiful. You can find Simmone here: www.simmonehowell.com.au


TC where do you write

Where do you write?

I do it on the patio with TC

Where do you write? I once tried to do it in the bath. I visualised a leisurely, relaxed activity. I sat my iPad on a chair so I could reach over and type thoughts as they came to me. Dumb idea. Uncomfortable, wet-fingered, yoga-twisting awkwardness is what resulted. At least I can say I’ve tried it.

My favourite place to write is on our tiny front patio under a sun umbrella with one of our two cats supervising (see pic). That’s TC. He keeps his opinions to himself, even when I ask for them. He’s stubborn (or wise) like that. If he had opposable thumbs so he could bring me coffee he’d be purrrfect.

In bed first thing in the morning before distractions set in, is an incredibly productive option. Night time in bed doesn’t really work for me as I’m not a pen and paper girl and I have a noise-averse hubby (key taps can sound like whack-a-mole in the dead of the night) whose day job pays the mortgage and buys cat food. Fair enough, I need to eat too.

I’ve been told Hemingway liked to stand at a chest of drawers near a window in his bedroom, to write. *Goes off to visit good friend Google * True, it seems, and Hemingway wasn’t alone: Kierkegaard, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf were also fans of the vertical stance. Personally, I find being seated on my well-padded butt quite satisfactory for a writing position. The art is hard enough without tiring oneself out physically as well as mentally. Having said that, I’ll probably give it a try because I can.

So where else? I used to frequent a Borders Café to write. Sadly, it’s long gone now. It was perfect for eavesdropping on conversations—essential for picking up nuances in dialogue—and being surrounded by books has a settling effect on me. The tasty coffee and banana bread was a bonus. Your local library is always available for a quiet, disruptive-free zone. Again I think it’s the books thing, plus being around like-minded others with a similar energy is inspiring. Try it. If you get stuck writing you can always read and that’s just as productive.

The weirdest place I’ve written? Not so much weird as tense: making notes by flashlight, in a Far North Queensland community sports centre, with a category 5 cyclone in full force. With no power and a flat iPad battery, I had to resort to pen and paper. I felt terribly ‘authentic’, like an on-the-scene reporter, if that isn’t too wanky a concept.

If you choose to write while up a tree, on the loo, or on a pull-down tray in an aeroplane, do what works for you; words on the page is the aim. Your readers will never know.


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