The Next Big Thing

Last week, writerly friend Dawn Barker tagged me to participate in a ‘chain blog’, The Next Big Thing. I will answer 10 questions about my completed novel manuscript, and next week Samantha Bond will do the same for hers.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

Hot Pursuit is the first in a series.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

A few years ago I did a short online course on plotting, as this has always been my weak point. Part of the course included an exercise in building a plot by starting with a character and answering a series of questions about their motivations. I formed a loose plot from this exercise, which I then tightened into a working synopsis with feedback from the course facilitator. I wanted to write a character I could identify with, as I’m not terribly interested in make-up, fashion or celebrities, and I thought it’d be funny to plonk someone like this in the centre of the materialistic world of a women’s gossip magazine.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

I have struggled to define the genre of this book. Originally I described it as women’s contemporary fiction, but I don’t think it really fits there, as I actively avoided the focus on appearance and fashion that is so much a part of this genre. It’s in the style of the Janet Evanovich ‘Stephanie Plum’ series, and I’d say it’s a women’s adventure/mystery.

4. What actors would you choose to play the parts of your characters in a movie rendition?

I have literally been thinking about this for the last two weeks since Dawn asked me to participate in this chain. I don’t watch much TV so I’m as clueless on actors as my main character, Sarah Burrowes, is. But if I had to pick someone, Asher Keddie’s character in Offspring reminded me a bit of Sarah in her awkwardness, except she doesn’t fit the physical profile. And just to be totally predictable, I could see the dude who played Dr Patrick Reid (see, I don’t even know his name) in Offspring as Nick Archer, but less brooding, more smouldering.

5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Oh crap. This is the one bit I don’t have ready yet. I know this is cheating, but here’s a blurb instead:

Sarah Burrowes is a former beauty therapist who doesn’t wear make up. She’s a wanna-be journo for gossip magazine Women’s Choice, but she knows nothing about celebrities. Sarah tricks her boss into sending her to Europe after Chris Evans, rock star and suspected murderer on the run. The only catch is that photographer Nick Archer, whose sexiness is surpassed only by his narcissism, is going too. Together they pursue Evans across Europe, fighting constantly even as they struggle to keep their hands off one another. When they get mixed up with an international drugs cartel, their lives are at stake as Sarah tries to solve the case and work out who the killer is…and, perhaps, to find love from the most unexpected of quarters.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Sophie Hamley at Cameron Creswell, and she will attempt to find a publisher for the book…and, hopefully, the series.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I faffed around on the first chapter for a few weeks, then my friend Bek and I set ourselves the challenge of writing 1000 words a day for a week. This worked so unexpectedly well for me that I continued until I’d finished the first draft, which I think took me about 7 weeks.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Hot Pursuit would appeal to readers of the Janet Evanovich ‘Stephanie Plum’ series, who enjoy a mystery with romantic and comedic elements and a feisty but flawed heroine.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I explained above, I wanted to write a strong, witty female character, but avoid the focus on fashion and personal experience that is so common to women’s contemporary fiction. I also wanted to portray a ‘real’ person, who is not 6 foot tall and stick thin, but awkward and a bit dorky with a sharp wit and a potty mouth.

10. What else about the book might pique the readers’ interest?

I hope that the ‘ordinariness’ of my heroine will appeal to those who are tired of reading about perfect, self-assured women who are great at their jobs.

So that’s the first book in my series, which will hopefully one day see the light of day! Next week, Samantha Bond will answer the same questions about her work.

An epiphany

On the weekend, I had a bit of an epiphany. Well, more accurately, my awesome friend Bek dangled an epiphany in front of my eyes, and when I didn’t show the love immediately, she got out the metaphorical rubber mallet and hammered it between my eyes until I saw it for what it was – a bloody brilliant idea.

See, I’ve been struggling along, trying to write the third manuscript in my series, but the plot just hasn’t really come together. The characters I loved in the first and second have been insipid, uninspiring, unlikeable. And in the back of my mind has been the thought that, despite recent successes, my series may never be published. Which will mean that I’ll have been wasting my time on something that’s not really working anyway, rather than starting on something new that might.

The main problem has always been that ideas don’t come easily to me. They’re either slivers of ideas that are too unwieldy to be short stories but not well-developed enough to be novels. So I’ve just hidden behind the relative safety of characters I know and a kind-of plot direction.

So, back to my forced epiphany. I was talking to Bek on the phone when she said: ‘Why don’t you write a romance involving horses that’s set in the Adelaide Hills? You’re passionate about both and you know a lot about both.’

I was reluctant at first. This is partly because I spent my entire childhood and teenage years writing about and drawing horses, so I have this automatic cringe about going back to the topic, like I’ve failed at being a real adult.

Also, I suck at romance, both in writing and in real life. I found a nice guy when I was 20 and I stuck with him. We call each other ‘man’ rather than ‘honey’ or ‘babe’. Hence, I don’t really feel qualified to write a sweeping romantic saga.

But Bek, in her inimitable way, was having none of my piss weak excuses. By the end of our conversation, what she was saying started to make sense. I’d still made no decisions on what I was going to do, but I did realise that starting something else didn’t mean abandoning the other manuscript. It wasn’t going anywhere, and even if I’m lucky enough to have my series picked up, there’s two that come before the one I’ve been struggling with. Plenty of time (theoretically) to come back to it later. And if it doesn’t, I’ll have something else ready to go.

Then, after we hung up, something weird happened. I started having ideas. Images flitted through my mind, outrageous characters (because horse people really are quite nutty), dark secrets, action scenes, stunning vistas. Within 24 hours, I had a full story arc, complete with sub plots, in my head and at least partly articulated.


I’ve started to write, and I’m still making adjustments to characters and plot in my mind, but it’s going well so far. It’s shaping up to be less of a romance than I’d thought, which makes me feel a little more comfortable with it too.

I’m not expecting it to be easy. Sadly, my days of seven week first drafts are probably behind me. But I have a good feeling about this one. I’m writing what I know, and I think that will really make a difference to the authenticity of the story.

One step closer

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. As soon as I could write words, I was creating stories and dreaming about seeing my name in print.

When I was seven or eight, I wrote a picture book about a herd of wild horses as a Christmas gift for my parents. I still distinctly remember a line in there about a mare who was jealous of another mare even though the stallion ‘hadn’t mated her yet’. (Bek, if you’re reading this, shut up)

I certainly never imagined that actually getting a book published would be such an involved and difficult process.

At around 12, I submitted my first unedited manuscript, ’32 Horse Street’, a story of a girl whose love for horses eventually takes her to an Olympic gold medal, in which I pretty much plagiarised swathes of International Velvet, to a publishing company. Oh, how I cringe now to imagine the slush pile reader’s bemused smile as she/he drafted the very lovely and encouraging rejection letter that I was so disappointed to receive.

Over the years, my writing has improved and, at the same time, my expectations have become more realistic. I’ve received many more rejection letters. I’ve had many disappointments along the way. But I’ve also received enough affirmations from people in the industry to keep going.

Today, I’ve taken a big step in my writing career. I’ve signed an agreement with a literary agent. Sophie Hamley from Cameron Creswell is going to attempt to find a publisher for my series. I have no illusions that this is a definite ride to publication. It’s difficult to get genre fiction published in Australia, in the traditional way at least. In two years’ time, I may be no closer to seeing that image of my book displayed in a bookstore which I’ve held in my mind for so long.

But, and this is a big but, I’ve now got formal endorsement from an industry expert that my writing is good enough to be out there. Someone who knows exactly the right publishers to approach to give me the best chance of being published. It’s often said that getting an agent can be even harder than getting a publishing contract.

(Although: this assertion is fairly retarded, considering that if this were the case, there would be no need for literary agents because everyone would be getting their own publishing deals. But I digress.)

And so. I am very excited to be working with Sophie, and I have my fingers crossed that she’ll be able to find a home for my books. In the meantime, I’ll continue to slug along on the third in the series. Because, frankly, I’m a writer, and even if I only write a paragraph a week, even if I never get published, I’m always going to be a writer.

I will end in a departure from my usual composure with an almighty WOOHOO!

Writer’s block – I haz it

And you know it must be bad when I use an intentional misspelling in the title. It’s dire straits here.

You see, my fingers are positively itching to write something. I even have a kind-of direction in my plot. There are scenes just sitting there in my head waiting to be transformed into prose. Every day this week I’ve got household chores out of the way early (or just ignored them altogether) and sat down in my couple of free hours to write.

But usually I just end up checking Facebook ad nauseum, or reading over what I’ve already written, or staring at my working synopsis and willing it to resolve itself.

The ironic thing is that the story is stalling because my main character is having trouble getting over herself and getting her A into G. Funny, that.

It’s like when I’m at work and I have so much to do that I become paralysed and sit there panicking and doing nothing instead. I have trouble getting past the big picture and sorting through the minor details to actually get something on the page. The minor details are too hard, so instead I do nothing. Or check Facebook for the seventy-fifth time.

And I panic.

Add my imminent return to work in three weeks and you have a potent cocktail of ohshitI’mnevergoingtowriteanythingeveragain.

A year in reflection

In just over a month I will be back at work. I can scarcely believe the last year has flown by so fast, and what a year it’s been.

I have spent much of today manually migrating my blog over to this new platform, as the automatic migration was not particularly successful. Me being me, I read over every single entry before re-posting it here, and it was kind of weird to read what I’d written pre-baby: not so much weird because life is so different, but because I feel like a completely different person to what I was then.

Reading about how crazy I was about horse riding, how obsessed with writing, how fierce my ambitions following a life-changing program, and my somewhat ridiculous notion to write another manuscript on my ‘year off’, I almost had to laugh. How those passions have juxtaposed with the experiences of being a parent.

I haven’t completely abandoned these passions, but I’ve found it difficult to approach them with quite the same enthusiasm as I did in the past. I’m still riding, albeit only once a week, and it often feels like I have to drag myself there out of obligation. And while I have done some writing, so far it’s been nothing but self-indulgent claptrap lacking any kind of coherent plot.

I’m kicking myself now that I haven’t put better use to the last year. Well, the 20 minutes which hasn’t been spent in raising my child, anyway. But I’ve found it difficult to regain my love of writing. It’s not that I don’t want to do it anymore. I still follow the dream of publication, and I still want that creative outlet for myself so my whole world isn’t taken up with being a parent.

But just because I haven’t done much writing, the year hasn’t been a complete failure, writing-wise. I’ve had a short story published, and I’ve had some interest from a literary agent in taking on my series, which has kept my hope alive. Said agent shall remain nameless for now lest it all come to naught.

Now all I need is some inspiration. And a plot.

But still, the literary fire is no longer raging. Perhaps this is because I haven’t had the spare time I thought I’d have. Or because there’s nothing more important in my life than Finn, and he is my first priority over everything. Or maybe it’s because I can’t really write anything else until I’ve got this plot sorted.

Needless to say, life has changed forever and I’m hoping I still have room for my writing, especially once I’m back at work and me time will be an even rarer occurrence than it is now.

I have mixed feelings about my return to work. Part of me is looking forward to wearing nice clothes again and talking to adults and using my brain. The other, much larger, part is dreading the thought of leaving Finn for 8-9 hours at a time, three days a week. I don’t know how I’m going to tear myself away from him, physically and emotionally. But separation is all part of life and we need the money if we’re going to build a house. There’s also this niggling thought in the back of my head that maybe the change will re-inspire me to start writing again. And that’s enough to keep the flame flickering.

In the meantime, I’ll keep turning my latest plot over in my head and hoping that eventually it forms into something that actually makes sense. And if all else fails, I’ll grab it by the cahunas and drag it, kicking and screaming, into something I can work with.

The muse has returned

I’m back! It’s seemed like forever since I’ve been able to write, but my muse has finally returned…and, along with it, my procrastination. Hence this post when I probably only have half an hour in which to bang out some words.

Since having a baby eight weeks ago, life has pretty much turned upside down. Whenever I thought things might be evening out a little, it would all change again. But, dare I say it, Finn is pretty much sleeping through the night now, and after a challenging few weeks where he decided he didn’t want to sleep for more than half an hour during the day, he seems to be settling much easier and sleeping for longer chunks.

Which means, of course, that not only do I have time for having a shower, going to the toilet and feeding myself, but now I’ve also got a few opportunities each day to do something just for me. Until this week, my brain has been mush and the idea of ever writing again seemed remote. But after a couple of weeks of a grumpy-crying-not-sleeping-constantly-feeding baby, the clouds have begun to clear and my creativity is slowly coming back.

On Tuesday, I began a working synopsis for a new book. There’s still a lot missing – a plot, for instance – but I’ve got a very basic structure to work with. Yesterday, I started to write. Sure, 80 per cent of it was notes I’d already written months ago, but it’s a start.

I think this experience is going to be very different from my previous manuscripts. I don’t think I’ll be writing a first draft in 70 days. But at least I’m writing again, and eight weeks into motherhood isn’t a bad effort.

Now I must go, because I think Finn is waking up. And if he’s not, I should be working on my manuscript anyway.

Baring my soul: writing as catharsis

I’ve always known that writing about a difficult period of your life could be cathartic, healing; what I didn’t know was how hard it is. Some months ago, I discovered just how raw and painful it could be when I wrote about the two miscarriages I had last year.

I don’t think I would ever have written about something so private, even just for myself, if I hadn’t seen the call for submissions for an anthology on miscarriage. And to be honest, I don’t think I could have written about it at all if I hadn’t been pregnant again and reasonably sure that this one was going to stick.

I’m not great with emotions at the best of times. That’s why I write. So I figured it was a good opportunity, at worst, to get it all out and, at best, to maybe get published.

But once I’d started writing, it didn’t seem to work. Creating a story isn’t easy, but telling your own is next to impossible, especially when you haven’t really faced up to all the feelings you’ve been holding inside for so long. I had to let go of my wanky writer’s pretensions and my natural inclination to hold back on my feelings and just go with it.

I wrote the first draft in a couple of days. I cried a lot. I thought it was crap, and that I probably wouldn’t end up sending it, but I finished it nonetheless. But when I read it back a few days later, I was surprised to find it was actually quite good. I usually edit a lot, but in this case I didn’t change much at all, just smoothed it over, tidied it up and sent it off.

It did help. Writing about it helped me to realise how I really felt about the whole thing, and that getting – and staying – pregnant hadn’t completely erased the pain of what had happened. It made me value my relationship and treasure my friendships more, and to be grateful for what I’ve got in my life.

Not long after this, I found out that my story had been selected for the anthology. The Sound of Silence: Journeys through Miscarriage will be published and available in bookshops in October. You can see a trailer for it here.

If you want to read my story, buy it. If you’ve had a miscarriage in the past, or you know someone who has, buy it. One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, so chances are you know several people who’ve had one but who have never spoken about it. This book is about ending that silence and allowing the women (and their partners) who’ve been through it the chance to find comfort and to know they’re not alone, even if they choose to never share their own stories.

Even now, three weeks off having my first baby, I still get tears in my eyes reading these stories. Damn pregnancy hormones. But I’ve learnt that not everyone is as lucky as I’ve been. And I’ve learnt that one gain, no matter how great, doesn’t cancel out previous losses. It just makes them easier to bear.

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.

One ending, another new beginning

Tonight, I completed the final draft of one of my three manuscripts.

It’s been three months since my last blog post, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t really have anything new to say about my writing. This last draft has taken me a little longer than I’d hoped, and a big part of me is glad that it’s done. Completing a story to the point that it’s ready to go out into the world (well, as ready as I can get it on my own, anyway) is a big achievement. And I’ve done it in four drafts, an improvement over my first, of which I am about to commence draft six.

I can feel my skills improving with each edit. I’m better able to visualise the story as a whole before I delve into specific chapters, phrases, words. I’ve even got a somewhat realistic hope that I’ll be able to get my third manuscript finished in only three drafts.

I don’t fool myself that it’s really really finished. I know that if an agent or a publisher picks it up, there’ll be plenty more work to do. But I’ve got it to the most polished point that I can without professional advice.

I should be happy. Ecstatic, even.

But, after racing towards this goal for the last five months, I feel strangely empty. I’d expected to feel upset to be letting it go, to saying goodbye to my characters. I am pregnant, after all. A particularly shiny teaspoon makes me teary, for Christ’s sake. But I don’t feel much at all.

I know it’s ready to go. And I’ve got my first manuscript to work on, and a clear vision of what I need to do with it. Tonight, I’m going to rest, and tomorrow morning I’m going to sleep in. I don’t know how many days I’ll take off before I get back into it.

But I do know that when the time is right, I’ll sit down with that dog-eared manuscript I sent off to Brisbane last year, and which has since travelled to Sydney, then to Brisbane again, before coming home with me to Adelaide. I’m not ready just yet, but I suspect the time will be here before I know it. I’m looking forward to it.

At the halfway point

It’s been exactly a month since my last blog post, and I’m almost exactly halfway through editing my second manuscript. I’ll keep this brief, as I mustn’t procrastinate too long from actually doing it (yeah right).

It’s been a bit of a hard slog at times, but overall I’ve been enjoying the process. Some pages have been a lot like pulling teeth. I keep using the same bloody phrases and words over and over again, and I can’t for the life of me think of different ways of saying it. I’ve even used a – *gasp* – thesaurus once or twice (or 500 times). There are whole weeks when it feels like I’ve had a wit-ectomy and everything comes out sounding flat and lifeless.

But then there are big sections – chapters even – where the writing is taut and snappy, and it just works. These bits allow me to think, just for a second, that perhaps it might actually be publishable. Once I’ve fixed up aforementioned hopeless bits.

My writing friend, Sam, has been going through it with a fine-toothed comb as I finish each chapter, and she’s not letting me get away with anything. She’s pulling me up on sentences that I just couldn’t get right and allowed myself to conveniently forget about. She’s ruthlessly culling my excessive adverbs (every time I comment about my excessive use of adverbs, I always seem to include an adverb in that sentence – you see, I have a problem). She’s telling me all the things I need to hear, whether I want to hear them or not. Sometimes I feel like bitch-slapping her for it*, but it’s all invaluable feedback that will force me to make it better. And no doubt she feels like bitch-slapping me every time I send one of her chapters back.

So I’ll keep pushing on through the wooden sentences and repetitive phrases and slowly perfect it to a level where it might actually be ready to submit. And I haven’t gotten over my addiction. I still have an obsessive compulsive need to do something on it each day, even if it’s just reading through what I edited the day before.

*I was kidding about the bitch-slapping. Sort of. 😉