At 4.11am, I finished my book

I wouldn’t normally get up in the middle of the night to edit on purpose, but I’d been awake since 2.30 already, and lying in bed staring into the dark seemed like a waste of possible productivity. So, at 3.20am I got up, sat on the couch with my laptop and edited the final 30 pages of the sixth and final draft of my first completed, polished manuscript.

This project has been a long journey for me. I began the first draft in January 2005 with nothing more than a sliver of an idea. No plot to speak of, no character profiles, no real idea of where it was going. This is not the ideal way to begin one’s first book.

Over the years, the plot meandered along, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes with bursts of genius. I added new scenes in one draft that I subsequently deleted in the next. I implored George and my friend Bek to read it and give me the feedback I needed. Gradually, I made it a little bit better with each new draft.

The third draft was commended in the IP Picks competition in the Best First Book category, and I was asked to revise it and resubmit to the publisher. The fourth draft, while better, only inspired an invitation to pay the publisher for another evaluation. I decided not to continue down this line, but I did use the feedback to write a fifth draft, which I entered in a few other competitions without success. I didn’t know quite what to do with it by then, so it languished on my computer for another year or so while I wrote another manuscript.

Last year, I entered this second manuscript in the Hachette/Queensland Writers’ Centre Manuscript Development Program. At the very last minute, I remembered that first story that I had worked so hard on, and decided to enter that one as well. I gave it a quick tidy up and sent it off, fully expecting that the other one would better meet the guidelines of the competition.

To my surprise, that fifth draft won me a place on the program and one of the most awesome experiences in my writing career. Long story short, but the feedback I received while on the program shaped the sixth and final draft.

Yes, it will be the final draft. I’m sure I could keep working on it and making it a little bit better each time, but at this stage the effort it would take is greater than the desire. Of course, if I get significant interest from a publisher with more changes requested, I’ll go back to it again, but in my mind, it’s finished.

Today I sent it back to the publisher, and also to the agent I met on the program. I’m not holding my breath. I’m still one of thousands of hopefuls that try their luck with the publishing industry every year. But I know that I’ve made it the best it can be.

Now that it’s done, I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself. But I know I’m ready to move on.

Why I need to read more Australian books

I’m sorry to admit that I really haven’t been pulling my weight over the years when it comes to supporting Australian authors. It’s not that I’ve actively avoided them, or have any sense of cultural cringe, or think that British or American writers are better. One of my all-time favourite books, Cloudstreet, was written by an Australian author, and will probably go down in history as one of the best books ever written.

I guess it’s partly due to my long-held obsession with Indian literature, in that I’ll almost always buy at least one Indian book every time I go to the bookshop. I also tend to go back again and again to my favourite authors, like Milan Kundera, Louis de Bernieres, Ian McEwan.

My rather random method to selecting books is also to blame. Because I rarely remember when people have recommended a specific book to me, I usually just wander the shelves, randomly select volumes from the shelf, read the blurb and pick out those that sound the most interesting. This has meant I’ve collected an eclectic combination of genres in my bookcase. I’ve rarely regretted a purchase. But it’s also meant that I’ve missed out on a lot of outstanding Australian literature.

There have been a few Australian books I’ve been wanting to check out recently, especially those authors who participated in the same manuscript development program that I did last year, and who have been talented enough to achieve publication. So I decided, on my most recent bookshop visit, to devote my purchase to entirely Australian authors.

And my god, I’ve read some outstanding books over the last month. I began with Favel Parrett’s Beneath the Shallows, moved on to Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, followed by The Ottoman Hotel by Chris Currie, and I’m almost through Bereft by Chris Womersley. I won’t go into the plot of each of them; suffice it to say that each was stunning in its own way. It’s reinforced that we have some fantastic writers in Australia, and we need to support them.

And going on my experience of the last six months, Australian writers need all the support they can get. The publishing industry is in a big hole at the moment, and I don’t know if it’s going to improve anytime soon. Talent alone is no longer enough – you need a book that’s strongly marketable, and even then you need to find a publisher that’s willing to take a risk on you.

I don’t know if I have the talent to get published; I hope I do. I’ll keep trying. But in the meantime I’ll be sure to support our Australian writers as much as I can. Please check out these books. They’re fantastic stories by fantastic authors.