I’m not religious and I’m not sure whether or not I believe in fate, but sometimes it does seem as if random decisions converge to give you the opportunities you’ve been hoping for.
A couple of weeks ago I found out that I’d secured a place on the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program, but it didn’t happen quite as I’d expected it to. For one thing, I’d never intended to enter the manuscript that was chosen. The program asked for strong commercial fiction, so naturally I assumed my women’s contemporary mystery manuscript would be far more suitable than my first manuscript, which, while not exactly literary fiction, certainly wouldn’t have the same commercial appeal. Or so I thought.
A few days before applications closed, I remembered that first manuscript, which I’d sweated and toiled over through five drafts, two assessments and countless readings, and which had been languishing on my computer for longer than I’d ever intended. I sent an email to my mate Bek, who had read several of said drafts, and asked her if she thought I should enter it in the program as well.
‘Are you mental?’ she replied. ‘Of course you should enter it!’
So I paid the extra $50 and sent off my two manuscripts, still assuming that if one or the other would be successful, surely it’d be the mystery version.
Fast forward a couple of months and I get a hysterical email from Bek that her urban fantasy manuscript was one of 50 that had been long-listed for the program. Naturally I was happy for her, as all good friends would be, but I was kind of bummed out too. Great, I thought. Guess neither of mine got in. A week later I got an email from the Queensland Writers Centre to say that, unfortunately, on this occasion my application was unsuccessful. But we encourage you to keep writing, etc etc.
I was pretty disappointed, but I figured I’d left that first manuscript lying around for far too long and it was time to do something about it. I sent off a query email to a literary agent to see if they’d be interested in seeing a sample of the work, but I got a prompt response politely telling me to bugger off. Cue temporary depression, the bane of every writer. Maybe I’m just not good enough. Maybe I’ll never get published. Maybe the 5am starts have all been for nothing.
So I gave up on it again and I turned my attention to starting the second instalment in my mystery series. I came up with a plot and I started to write. And it was awesome. I remembered why I was doing this. If I never got published, it wouldn’t matter. I write because I’m a writer.
Then, one Friday morning at work I get a call from the Queensland Writers Centre. The publisher has requested your full manuscript, A Recipe For Balance. You’ve been long-listed. It never occurred to me to ask why the rejection email, why the call a full month after Bek got her call? I sent off the manuscript, the one I’d never expected to get in, and hoped for the best.
In the meantime, I began my annual 1000 words a day for 30 days jaunt. The words were flowing, I went back into the world of my characters that I hadn’t been able to let go after one book. And then the following Friday, I got another call. I’d got into the program. Oh my god. And even better, my friend Bek had got in too!
I’ve known Bek since I first moved to Murray Bridge in Year 7. We were the geeky girls who read books on the way to class and wrote stories during the lunch hour. We’ve always dreamt of being published, and over the years we’ve read each other’s work, praised and criticised it, but always supported each other towards our dream, even when we’ve lived at opposite ends of the country. And these two geeky girls are two of eight chosen ones, out of more than 220 entries from across Australia.
In November we’ll attend an intensive five day retreat in Brisbane where we’ll work with editors from a publishing house to develop our manuscripts to a publishable standard. We may not get published. We probably won’t. But the experience, the industry insight and the opportunity to meet other writers at similar stages in their writing careers will be invaluable, and something we’ll likely never forget.
Meanwhile, I’m still averaging 1000 words a day on my new novel. And once I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll go back for a third draft on the second one. I’ll probably work on three different manuscripts in as many months. And I’ve always thought I was hopeless at multi-tasking.
Going back to the fate thing, it’s amazing how you can be down in the dumps one minute, and the next you’re on top of the world. I wasn’t even going to enter A Recipe For Balance. I’d started to think it was unpublishable, unmarketable and simply not good. The validation that I’m doing something right has been worth it alone.
I can’t express my appreciation for the support and congratulations I’ve had from everyone, including my fantastic workplace, strongly enough.
Hopefully, in a few months’ time, I’ll have some more good news to share. But if I don’t, I know I’ll still be getting up at 5am, writing and re-drafting, cursing and rejoicing in my craft. Because I have to. I’m a writer.