Category Archives: Writing Process

Decisions …

I described in my previous post the response of an editor to my novel ms set on the Camino. That person believes it can work well as a travel narrative and currently does not work as fiction, essentially being too introspective, intense and ‘Gothic’. I accept much of her criticism, albeit surprised she detested sections of my novel which published authors [not editors or agents] have praised in writing workshops. Fair enough, opinions differ and this editor is a professional whose assessment I should take seriously before deciding on my next step. After all, this is my first attempt at writing fiction.

But…

At a book launch last week, an acquaintance [a highly successful fiction writer] asked after my Camino ms, I summarised the opinion and after prodding, revealed the identity of the person. Her response – ‘Oh, everyone knows x never likes that stuff! X always goes for -‘. Followed by first rate gossip and a faint glow of affirmation on my part.

Alright, nothing new, nothing to be seen here, move along please. Publishers have preferences and profiles, make decisions good and bad and their worst mistakes become the stuff of folklore and we wannabe writers have a good laugh. I am not kidding myself, I know my ms needs more work. The frustration is receiving such contradictory feedback.

What next?

Revise my novel ms? No, I need to leave it for minimum six months to gain some distance from it.

Write a Camino travel book? Nope, the world has enough.

Start a new blog devoted to the people – fascinating, mad, appealing, romantic, annoying – whom I have encountered on various pilgrimage paths? Yes. Watch this space.

Write a university novel? I have had a story in mind for some years and maybe now I have the perspective to write it after four years out of the game. Again, watch this space.

 

A surprising response from an editor

Six weeks ago I sent my novel ms to 3 publishers. I had low expectations of success given the small number of novels published annually in Australia and the tidal wave of unsolicited manuscript submissions washing up weekly on editors’ desks. Nor did I expect any feedback since publishers’ websites sternly enjoin ‘no feedback will be given’ and ‘silence equals rejection’. Let’s add the fact that I had no idea if my writing was good, bad or ho hum who cares?

Imagine my surprise to receive feedback from one editor . Alas, not feedback saying this is the most brilliant piece we have ever seen and we’re publishing it unchanged in a print run of 1,000,000, film rights already being auctioned. Quite the opposite. As a work of fiction it requires more work and they are not interested. So far, so depressing. I keep reading.

They love the ‘compelling sense of place’ and the ‘very strong travel narrative’ – you may recall my story is set on the Camino in Spain and France – and suggest I focus on that in the short term, perhaps placing articles in travel magazines, perhaps as a stand alone travel book. Well, knock me down with the proverbial feather. I love quality travel narrative ranging from the classics of the 19th and early 20th century to contemporary travellers/commentators/writers and am no snob who believes fiction is inherently superior to travel narratives.

Anyway, it is early days and only 3 publishers, however, it does give me food for thought [sorry for the unimaginative cliché] as this blog began life as a story of hiking and writing and maybe that will be my path again after a detour into the land of fiction. Not that I am giving up on fiction, perhaps this story needs a breather though. It is my first effort, I have learned a lot and cliché alert number two, you have to know when to hold and when to fold.

I have experienced three dramatic turns in my life in the last year and this could be number four.

Watch this space…

 

When the past walks in your front door

It has been a dramatic few months. It is a cliché to say that we can never truly escape the past, but you don’t expect it to enter your house. Literally. This is what happened to me.

This is not a confessional, gut-spill post, not my style, however I can tell you it was a shock and it got a lot worse in the following days and weeks and I was obliged to face memories and issues long buried [deliberately or simply the passage of time]. Mainly good old repression…

Let’s move to the good news. The situation is resolved and digging up and discussing memories and emotions has been ‘good for me’ as they say. No, seriously, it has been good for me – not like dad giving me a smack around the ear being ‘good for me’. It has shifted a truck load of crap.

And so to my novel writing with apologies for my long silence on this blog – did you miss me? Correct answer is ‘yes’.

So, I pitched to 3 publishers and duly submitted 3 chapters as requested. I have heard nothing from the 2 big publishers = rejection I presume, whereas a small local publisher expressed interest and wanted to see the complete manuscript. This was good news and I went back to my ms and read it AND HATED IT. I had not written for 2+ months [other matters more pressing], nor looked at it. Like my PhD long ago; when I submitted I thought it was the best I could do. Six months later I thought it was rubbish.

I decided not to submit my ms to the publisher because I know I can do much better and this is the point where the past hitting me in the face [like a clown throwing a pie] met the present and opened up new possibilities.

A few days ago I began a total re-write. Not a re-draft, completely new. Writing in the first person, which I have not done before, to give more impact and immediacy. I feel that my writing is freer, stronger, less restrained and going into places where previously I had not dared and for which I lacked the skill.

Yes, confronting what I thought was ‘all in the past’ – as if – has been good for me and I’m optimistic it will be good for my writing.

Ever onwards and upwards!

Literary speed dating: part two

I did my pitch to the three publishers I wanted and all three asked me to submit my first three chapters and were most encouraging re my ‘Loving and Dying on the Camino’. It is one more small step towards fulfilling my dream. Sure, it is a long journey from ‘we’d like to see a sample’ to ‘let’s do a contract’, but at least they did not politely tell me to go away, which is what happened to one of my acquaintances who was also pitching.
Of course, I looked at my three chapters later afterwards and decided they were embarrassing rubbish and needed total revision – this was predictable – took a deep breath and submitted them. Now, silence for x weeks or months and maybe one day one will ask for the entire manuscript….or not. In the meantime I keep revising and writing and hoping…
It was my first literary speed dating experience and thank you Australian Society of Authors! Sixty hopefuls lining up to do our bit, not nearly as stressful as I expected and all rather a blur.

Literary speed dating

No, this does not refer to speed dating literary women, though I have done that in the past with modest success. It refers to speed dating literary agents and publishers; that is, being given three minutes maximum [in reality 30-60 seconds] to interest/intrigue/tantalise a potential publisher or agent to the extent that one of them will ask to see the first chapters of my manuscript. This is my improbable dream for the speed dating day in two weeks time.
So I have put aside my 5th draft to concentrate on writing the perfect pitch of 1 minute, the perfect synopsis of 300 words and the toughest of all ‘tell me what your novel is about in one sentence’. Karma perhaps for all the PhD students I forced to describe their potential thesis in one sentence – two, if I was feeling generous. It is difficult to reduce the hard work and great ideas and brilliant writing to a sentence and I’ve just spent two hours in my favourite local café trying to articulate the core of my manuscript – the beating heart – in one sentence.
Next I’m focusing on the so-called ‘elevator pitch’. Why would any publisher be interested in my manuscript rather than the x thousand others which will cross their desk? An excellent question.
The good news is that I’m enjoying the torture!
Thanks you Australian Authors Association and Writers Victoria for this opportunity in a couple of weeks.
Okay, back to work….
man reading

Talking to strangers

strangers on a train
I love trams and trains, not so keen on buses and I’m an avid people watcher, especially these days with passengers’ social media habits. Who hasn’t enjoyed listening to someone’s mobile phone conversation delivered at the top of their voice, detailing how they have just been dumped by/dumped some %^$&hole who ^&(*&^% them? Or how they fucked over their boss? Classic. Or enjoyed seeing some jerk walk into a closed door or miss their stop because they were too busy checking the stalk book status of some person they met somewhere sometime and about whom they don’t give a rat’s clacker, but – MUST CHECK NOW.

Given where I live, hearing such a variety of languages, on occasion even another language which I know enough to understand. And simply the general weirdness of social interactions in a culture where private and public boundaries have dissolved and people interact and speak as though in their living rooms or bed rooms and not in a public space surrounded by strangers. Mind you, most are too immersed in their own social media bubble to notice whereas, being a relic from an earlier age, I do notice as I read my book (or pretend to) and daydream and look.
And sometimes check my phone, I confess it. MUST BE CONNECTED.

But I digress. How do I attract them, the strangers who are happy to share their intimacies with me? Okay, I am not sitting in a private bubble of music and/or text and I am genuinely interested in people’s stories [writers are ruthless collectors, aren’t we?]. Also if I see someone ‘weird’ ambling along, I do not automatically lower my eyes; only if they look weird and dangerous. Maybe they can see my own secrets etched in the lines of my face?
Sometimes I leave the tram or train and reflect. Yes, I reflect how lucky I am to have survived what life has thrown at me, but more than that.
Like a few months ago, last tram home from Saint Kilda, the tram of the drunks and the loners and a few couples absorbed in each other. A clearly mentally distressed and aggressive guy sat across from me and a space cleared around him in an instant. He barked and yelled and glared at me and I looked and said nothing and as he staggered off, he looked me in the eyes and said with utmost clarity ‘You’re cool, man.’
Did he see? Could he tell? I have seen much worse.

And I become the receiver of stories of exes (none of them any good, surprise, surprise), drugs, mental illness, crap relationships, how they’re ‘doing much better now’ or rants about *#^+$# politicians. The last is fair enough: political discourse in Oz is the pits. I will not listen to racist or sexist rants or political rants. All else, let it rip! They come to me like seagulls to a chip – how grateful are the other passengers as they see the weirdos’ radar lock onto me as soon as they step aboard and shuffle their way towards me.

What brought on my musing today? Coming home on my Brunswick tram a couple, both heavily tattooed, she anorexic skinny and twitchy, he all muscle shirt and bravado, told me (she articulately, he with grunted agreements) how God had saved them from drugs and prison and how he/she could save me too (good luck with that, mate) and how the guy hoped one day to get access again to his son. She told how she was learning to cook and how she was getting him to ‘stop eating shit’. It was fascinating to see how the skinny woman was the dominant personality and muscles followed along. Sad stories. All true? Maybe. It is their version of reality and for now it serves them well.

How many of our own stories are true? Don’t we all continually re-invent our past? Don’t you? Talking to strangers, safe in the knowledge we will never see them again?

How do you react to strangers on a train? Avoid them? Or listen and reflect? What stories have you heard and what stories have you told them?

I’m glad they chose me and I’m glad I listened.
trams