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Letting go

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Today I turned 40 and I relinquished control of my first book. The two are related, I promise.

A few years ago, I was struggling to find the motivation to keep going with the writing thing. For the first time in a long time, I’d begun to believe I’d never be published. The rejections kept coming in a slow but steady stream and I stopped believing in what I was doing. It all seemed like a lot of work for no reward.

I’m not sure what it was that made me do it, but around that time I set myself a goal to be published before I turned 40. I have no idea what I would’ve done if I didn’t achieve that goal (probably kept writing anyway, because I have to), but luckily I never had to find out, because I got a publishing deal a year ago and my first book comes out next year.

So, back to turning 40. I’ve actually been quite excited about the prospect of turning 40 – for me, it’s not about getting old, but about claiming who I am and not caring so much about what other people think of me (though you’d better believe I will be devouring every one of my Goodreads reviews and weeping into my beer glass over the negative ones).

Anyway. I am going somewhere with this. This week I’ve been doing the final FINAL read-through of my book before it goes to print. I hadn’t expected to make many (or even any) edits, but I was surprised to find myself still changing words, deleting words, adding words. There’s a saying that a book is never finished until the author is so sick of it they want to throw the computer across the room, or it gets made into an actual book. I could have kept tinkering away at this forever, but luckily it is going to be made into an actual book, so I have no choice but to stop.

And it was only today, on my 40th birthday, as I got to the end of my read-through, that I realised: THIS IS IT. I will never again change anything in this book. It’s not mine anymore. Well, it is, but it also belongs to everyone who reads it. I can’t control the story, and that is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.

So the creating part of the book is done with and now I wait until the day it goes out into the world. In the meantime, I’m working on the final draft of book 2, and then the whole process starts again. But tonight I’m going to enjoy the feeling of letting go in the knowledge that the book is finished.

THE BOOK IS FINISHED.

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My first ‘book’

I’ve just finished the copyedit on my book and it’s now been sent off to be typeset. While publication day is still a way off yet, now that I’ve written the dedication and acknowledgements, and most of the remaining process is out of my hands, everything is starting to feel a lot more real.

I’ve still got plenty to keep me busy, as I’m redrafting the next book in the series and planning a redraft of another standalone novel, but my brain is still trying to terrify me with all the scary things I’ll have to do once the book’s out there in the world, like promotion and, you know, actually talking to people about it.

But while looking through my bookcase today I came across the perfect distraction: my first ‘book’, written almost exactly 30 years ago just before I turned 10.

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Just look at that front cover.

 

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Complete with melodramatic dedication at the front, and I even gave my little sister co-author status, though I only actually let her draw the pictures on the front cover and the inside front cover.

 

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Much of the content was plagiarised from the Silver Brumby series, with excessive exclamation marks, female jealousy and some horse sex references added in for good measure.

 

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I spent way more time on the illustrations than I did on the plot.

 

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There’s nothing like an abrupt ending. But at least they lived happily ever after (though it looks like I wanted to avoid cliches even back then).


On winter

I’ve always hated winter.

When we first moved to the Adelaide Hills, I expected to be miserable for the three months of the year (well, let’s face it, five months up here) that it was cold and rainy. And last year it was more like seven months with all the storms and higher than usual rainfall.

But something has changed this year. Winter is never going to be my favourite time of the year compared to the balmy evenings of summer, the wild flowers of spring, and the mild, colourful days of autumn. But there’s something about the mid-afternoon winter sun that washes the trees with soft light that calms my soul.

Getting settled in our new house hasn’t been without its share of problems and stress, but we’re lucky to have this amazing view from our back deck.

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I always seem to have 670 programs open in my brain at once, but when I come out here and the air is still and the sunlight turns every leaf golden, and the kookaburras are cackling in the treetops, my mind goes quiet. I can just exist, without worrying about every little thing I have to do, or the things I haven’t done yet, or how the hell I’m going to pull off the edit I know I need to do on my next book.

I’m never going to love winter. And no doubt I’ll be thinking differently once it starts raining and I’m stuck inside with ratty kids for hours of the week, or dashing from the car into school in the pouring rain with two kids in tow and one on my hip.

But for this first month of winter, I’m going to enjoy the cut glass cold on my back while the fragile sun warms my face for that one golden, quiet hour a day.


Editing, Writers’ Week and Buffy

It’s been a busy few months for me as I’ve been working on the structural edit of my novel, Hot Pursuit. As with all my writing/editing projects, I went through my usual steps:

  1. Excitement to be at the next stage
  2. Pleasant surprise that the feedback isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.
  3. Procrastination.
  4. Denial.
  5. Paralysis.
  6. Panic.
  7. I’m never going to be able to do this.
  8. Start with the easy bits.
  9. Everything falls into place.
  10. Pleasant surprise that I seem to have pulled it off.

I’ve sent it back to the editor and am hoping I actually did pull it off… In the meantime, I’m now feeling a bit empty without anything to work on. I became so immersed in the world of the story that I’m almost mourning the loss of my characters and find myself imagining them in various different situations. Luckily for me, I have at least another two books in the series to keep directing their lives, and the first draft of the second book is already sitting on my laptop, waiting for me to jump in.

IMG_5885I was also lucky enough to time my final week of maternity leave before returning to work with Adelaide Writers’ Week, my favourite time of the year. I didn’t get to as many sessions as I would’ve liked, but the weather was perfect and the atmosphere as magical as ever. I saw Sara Taylor, followed by a packed session with US feminist Lindy West, the highlight for me. I saw a few bits and pieces of other sessions, but mostly I just sat under the trees with my laptop and enjoyed the atmosphere.

i6guaja7bivibhmegqdnOn other matters, any die-hard Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan would be aware that last week marked the 20 year anniversary of the show airing on TV. I didn’t come to Buffy until around Season 5, I think, after which I immediately went back to the beginning and watched the whole lot (I don’t even know how many times I’ve watched the entire series since then).

I didn’t know it at the time, but Buffy began to awaken the feminist in me. It wasn’t because she was a kick-arse superhero, or that she was physically stronger than men – it was because slaying vampires and demons was the easy part of her life. It was the normal, everyday stuff that she struggled with. Paying bills, raising her sister, making poor choices in her love life, being there for her friends, knowing what to do with her life. She was a flawed human, but she was a whole human. She didn’t fit into the usual female roles of princess or supporting act to a man’s personal journey. And while it is often thought of as being too dark, Season 6 was my absolute favourite for continually knocking her down and letting her pull herself back up and become stronger.

Buffy was one of the first shows to star a tough woman who was also unashamedly feminine…not in the sense that she was beautiful, but that she liked girly things…she was never trying to be a man. While it paved the way for many shows focusing on women, I think it is still unparalleled in terms of character writing. Yes, Breaking Bad was a brilliant series, but there were next to no women characters, and they were only there because of what they meant to men. And it’s indefensible in the 21st century that 51% of the population takes up so little space on the screen (and in fiction, and parliament, and corporate leadership…).

Even 20 years later, while the fashion may be starting to look a little dated, the issues Buffy dealt with remain relevant…same-sex relationships, addiction, violence against women. It also managed to weave sharp, witty humour into some really dark themes, which is so hard to do well.

And for the record, it’s Buffy and Spike all the way for me…

I think it might be time to watch the series again.


I’m going to be an author!

This blog has been sadly dormant for way too long, partly because:

  1. I have three young kids who take up a lot of my time
  2. not much has been happening with my writing because:
    1. (see point 1)
    2. I’ve been concentrating on submitting my most recently completed manuscript, and I don’t want to go into the blow by blow of how many agents and publishers have rejected it.

BUT!

I finally have some blogworthy news to share, and this time it’s pretty exciting. I’ve been offered (and have accepted) a publishing contract! As with everything publishing-related that seems to happen to me, it was for a manuscript that I’d long ago consigned to the virtual bottom drawer as unmarketable.

It began in September 2015 when I’d been submitting my manuscript Misconception in the hope of securing a new agent. I was receiving rapid rejections for various reasons and, as my list of potential Australian agents dwindled, my spirits were sinking lower and lower when I saw a tweet from boutique publisher Pantera Press that they were seeking comedic chick lit manuscripts. My abandoned mystery series fit the bill, so to give myself a bit of a boost I submitted the first in the series, Hot Pursuit.

I didn’t hear anything for ages and my attention was consumed with finishing up work, starting my eldest son at kindy, moving house, having a baby, and various other unplanned stressful events, and I completely forgot about it. Fast forward to August this year and I got an email from Pantera that they were interested in my manuscript if I could make a few revisions to it.

Still not expecting much but with nothing to lose, I edited the manuscript and sent it back, and a couple of weeks later I was amazed to receive an offer to publish not only Hot Pursuit, but the whole series! After I’d got over my excitement, I sought advice on the contract and, with the nitty gritty out of the way, I was ready to accept.

Last week I was lucky enough to be whisked over to Sydney for a whirlwind visit to meet the whole Pantera team and sign the contract, with obligatory glass (or two) of bubbly of course! It was amazing to meet everyone and of course to hear so many lovely comments about my book!

A week later my head is still swimming with details, but I have plenty of time to absorb everything, as Hot Pursuit will likely be published in January 2018. Next up will be the structural edit of the manuscript, but until then I am continuing to celebrate the amazing news that after all these years of perseverance, I’m actually going to be an author!

Here’s me with Ali Green, CEO of Pantera Press, and Marty, Sales and Marketing Director.

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This news was great timing for me, as I’d set a goal to have a publishing contract before I turned 40, which I’ve achieved with one year to spare!

I’m hoping to keep this blog way more up to date now as Hot Pursuit continues on its journey to publication. More to come soon!


A few updates

It’s been a while since I posted, because…well…I’ve been writing. Writing rather a lot, actually.

I’ve been banging out 1000 words a day, which I haven’t managed since before having a baby. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, I’ve started using Scrivener, writing software that allows you to write in scenes and move those scenes around. Sounds simple. It is. But for the first time I’m able to see my story in a holistic sense rather than as one long, linear document. I see this structure as I’m writing, and I can make notes in each scene to remind myself to go back and fix something earlier on. At the moment I’m not moving scenes around so much, but I’ve found that I seem to have ideas swirling around in my head all the time. My one dimensional, spare first draft is becoming more complex as I write, but the prospect of going back and fixing the beginning is no longer as daunting, because I can switch back and forth between scenes without having to scroll up and down and then find where I was before.

Also, word targets. Another simple tool that is really motivating for people like me, who manage to procrastinate by continuously highlighting what they’ve written in a session to see how many words they’ve done so far. I set myself a word target per session of 1000 words, and as I type, the red bar inches across and eventually turns to green as I reach my target.

The second, and more important, reason is that I’m writing on a topic that’s close to my heart. Four months ago, I was ensconced in a different manuscript, which seemed like it was going well at the time, when I was hit with a new idea. Smashed, more like it. I was forced to abandon the other work immediately and start on this one. The subject matter is difficult, but I’ve never been so driven to write something before. I’m well into the dreaded ‘saggy middle’ now, but I’m more inspired and having more ideas than ever.

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My other bit of news is that Parenting Express, an online magazine, has published a blog post I wrote about my experiences of early motherhood back when my boy was only five weeks old. Hard to believe it was almost two years ago already, but it’s amazing how it all comes back when I re-read it!


Remembering Ash Wednesday

Tomorrow, 16 February 2013, marks the 30 year anniversary of the Ash Wednesday bushfires, which tore through the Adelaide Hills, killing 28 people and destroying numerous homes.

I was only five years old at the time, but I so clearly remember that day. We lived on a small property in Bull Creek, an area 10 minutes from the township of Meadows, with few close neighbours and a forest a few kilometres up the road.

I remember how hot the wind was, and I remember looking up into the red sky in the afternoon and seeing the moon, tinged with pink. A bushfire moon. I remember standing out on the dirt road that we lived on with my family, just watching the sky and talking to the neighbours that lived across the road. No one knew what to do.

I remember the whoof! as a small fire ignited in the paddock next to the neighbour’s house, and I remember asking my parents who started the fire, and how confused I was by their answer. I didn’t understand how a fire could just start on its own like that. Of course it must have been a spark or an ember that flew on the wind, but it didn’t make any sense to my five-year-old brain.

For some reason I don’t remember the fire being put out, but I guess it was, and that must have been the point at which the decision was made that Mum would take us and the neighbour’s daughter into Meadows and away from immediate danger while Dad stayed home with the neighbours to protect our houses.

I remember hurriedly packing our two dogs and the cat and the three of us kids into the car, and I remember saying ‘This is fun!’ as we drove out of the driveway. I was too young to understand the danger we were in, and especially what leaving Dad behind might have meant. I remember the neighbours’ kid, who was a few years older, telling me off for saying it. I remember the realisation as we hit the main road that we’d forgotten our bird, and wondering about our horse still in the paddock.

Mum drove straight to the Meadows oval, and I remember how surprised we were to see the entire oval covered with other people from the town. The next few hours were loads of fun for Amy and I as we found our friends and ran around madly. I can’t imagine now how frightening it must have been for my mum, and for others who had left partners at home to fight the fires, but for us it was one big exciting adventure.

At some stage I think Dad joined us and eventually, once it seemed the danger had passed, we drove home. I think the forest along the main road was still burning when we went past, and it was at that point that I started getting scared. That night, I couldn’t sleep because on the hill opposite our house, I could see tree stumps glowing red in the dark.

I remember the following day we went for a walk up the dirt road towards the forest, and I remember the blackened banks on the side of the road, barely a kilometre from our house. I remember seeing movement on one of the banks, and realising it was a black snake, camouflaged against the scorched earth.

We were so lucky to have escaped the fires. Such is nature and its random choices. And Amy and I were so lucky to have been largely protected from the fear that could’ve engulfed us. I know there have been far worse fires in the years since Ash Wednesday, most notably the recent and tragic Black Saturday bushfires, which killed 414 people, but any major disaster in which lives are lost and property destroyed deserves to be remembered and reflected on.

Now, 30 years later, I’m looking at moving my own family to the Adelaide Hills, to a dead-end street overlooking a national park. A crazy proposition, perhaps, considering the potential danger every summer. But despite the risks, my memories of living in the Hills are overwhelmingly positive. I want to make memories like that for my son, like walking in a forest at sunset, the trees bathed red in the soft light, and seeing kangaroos, koalas and echidnas on a daily basis.

Despite the risks, I think it’s worth it.


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