Category Archives: Writing the Camino

Like falling out of a window

Yes, it’s been seven months since I blogged. Shame on me, though I do have excuses. It is one year since I had a melanoma removed. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is like falling out of a window [a thousand other metaphors or similes come to mind] and ‘so far so good’ as I haven’t yet hit the ground. My quarterly check three days ago showed NED = no evidence of disease and no need to come back for four months.

You want more excuses? In July I had two related operations, nothing to do with cancer, ‘just bad luck’ consequences of the original melanoma operation. Successful, albeit with a long period of enforced inactivity.

Still not happy? Okay. This week I completed the first draft of ‘Stopping Time’, my novel about the challenges confronting modern universities; that is, the pressure to do more with less and to be more commercial, competitive and ‘relevant’ while maintaining core values of academic freedom. One hundred thousand words of pure gold. Maybe.

No more excuses.

Now it is decision time. Time to cross the river, not the Styx fortunately. The photo is one of many river crossings when I was hiking in the Flinders Ranges in September perfectly timed to coincide with a ‘once in 50 years’ weather event. Three ops and you gotta keep going through flood, storm, whatever.

Anyway, I digress. My decision, my metaphorical river to cross, is this. Which of my two manuscripts do I revise first? ‘Death on the Camino’, the one with potential but needs more work [according to an editor] and which is my first love? Or ‘Stopping Life’, the one which my mentor likes and which is probably more commercial and topical? The heart versus common sense.

Time for a walk in the rain and a spot of pondering…

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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.

One year ago today since I walked the Camino

Today it is one year, give or take a day, since I walked the Pamplona – Leon Section and completed my 1530 kilometre amble from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago. Approximately 400 kilometres in 15 days. This year I have no long walks scheduled, hopefully next year is the Via Francigena. In 2016 maybe the 88 Temples in Japan.
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The low light of last year’s Camino section undoubtedly was suffering a ‘march fracture’ in my right foot, fracturing 2 metatarsal bones only 150 kilometres after Pamplona. A lovely sunny day, pleasant country side and kapow. With no warning, my right foot suddenly felt like I was dragging a lead weight on it while at the same time going numb. Took my boot off that night and I had a swollen bruise from the ankle to the toes. Nothing to be done except to push on with no idea what I’d done, finally having it diagnosed in London 7 weeks later. Such is life. All is fine now apart from scar tissue pressing on nerves meaning that my toes feel tingly or numb most days: very much a first world problem, right?
Another disappointment though not actually a low light, was walking the Meseta. My reading had led me to imagine a wild high plateau of solitude and starkness, in other words, precisely what I love. Um, no. It was civilised – crops, irrigation canals, flowers, little birds singing – nothing like what I expected and so soft and colourful compared with the country Australia of my childhood.
Highlights?
Waling through the wind farms high on the hills after Pamplona, the air reverberating and humming like a giant pulsing heart so that my body sang for hours afterwards.
Staying with a family in Mansilla de las Mulas in a lovely little house and eating dinner with them in the courtyard at night, waking in the morning to storks preening and grooming in the church tower outside my window.
Meeting and walking with strangers who became friends for a while.
Celebrating my birthday in the tiny village of El Burgo Ranero, drinking in the bar and writing while the old men played cards with much shouting and laughing until their women came and swept them away home. The daughter of the family discovering it was my birthday and making a ‘special’ vegetarian meal for me.
Lots of other stuff.
Oh, and I remember having a snack near a creek, actually more of a swamp, and a family of rats coming out of the reeds to watch, eager for scraps, nervous of coming close, much twitching of whiskers and squeaking. Yes, I left crumbs for them as a fitting symbol of the Camino.
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Next year I plan to be back on the pilgrimage trails, this year I shall miss it.

Walking the Via Francigena

The decision is made. My next long walk will be the Via Francigena, the old pilgrimage route, from the Great Saint Bernard Pass to Rome. Some 940 kilometres, I plan a leisurely timetable of 6 weeks, allowing days to detour and wander on the way, commencing in June 2016 once the pass is open for walking and aiming to arrive in Rome late July.
Commencing here –
saint bernand pass
and finishing here –
rome
I have walked from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago along the Via Podiensis and the Camino Frances, 1500 kilometres or so depending what book or map you believe and this one will be quite different in character and terrain.
This gives me 14 months to have my novel-in-progress published, in the process of being published, self-published into probable oblivion or consigned to the rubbish bin.
Step one: start learning Italian.
Step two: start pondering ideas for a novel set on the Via Francigena. Maybe a series of linked short stories?
Step three: stay open to this changing. The 88 Temples pilgrimage in Japan is tempting… or a stroll in the Cotswolds or the new walk along the Turkish coast or ….
Again, there is no religious element involved. It is the joy of wandering and writing and of meeting people and experiencing places the old-fashioned way; by foot.