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…

 

An island stroll

Tomorrow I fly to Adelaide to commence a 6 day hike on Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third largest island, situated off the South Australian Coast and fronting the Great Southern Ocean.

It is a gentle walk, the longest day is only 18 kilometres and not at all like the long walks I have done and have planned.

But…

Staying in a lighthouse – yes

44_Cape_du_Couedic_Lighthouse_Kangaroo_Island_reg

Staying in lighthouse cottages – yes

Mingling with penguins, sea-lions, goannas, kangaroos, echidnas etc – yes

sea lions

Seeing rare Australian native birds – yes

Spectacular cliff top walks and scenery – yes

cape borda

Wandering in the sunshine – yes.

The stars at night, crystal clear far from city pollution, peering into infinity – yes.

‘What’s not to like’, as we say down under [and possibly elsewhere].

In the meantime I continue to ponder doing the Via Francigena in 2016, a hike of 950 kilometres from Saint Bernard’s Pass to Rome. I have learned that the Pope has declared 2016 a jubilee year for the Catholic Church.

I have zero interest in religion, however, I am informed that the jubilee year declaration will lead to an influx of people/pilgrims to Italy [and higher prices] and the last thing I want is to be surrounded by hordes of people!

I know that the Camino Frances becomes even more crowded in jubilee years.

What do readers know of the possible impact of a jubilee year on the Via Francigena?

If I decide that the Via Francigena is ‘off’ for 2016, there are other enticing possibilities – the 88 temples pilgrimage in Japan, Jakobsweg in Switzerland/France and the temptation of hiking  in Scotland, about which I have heard so much.

I could do the first half of the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Saint Bernard’s Pass, but that one is less appealing. Mind you, it would certainly be solitary!

Either way I shall continue to learn Italian, a beautiful language and a fun class even if I do not walk there next year.

First world problems, I know.

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!

Her spirit returned last night

She came to my house last night, uninvited, unwanted, unseen. Fifteen years gone. The moment I opened the front door, I sensed her presence as the faintest trace of perfume of a long ago lover. Graveyard chilled yet unable to turn away, I entered and followed her trail up the stairs, the marks a phosphorescent glow in the dark where she had stopped and run her hand along the bannister, touched her photos on the landing and hesitated by the painting. Our painting, that day at the beach.
The air tingled, vibrating like a high voltage power line as I followed her scent into my study, the buzzing deafening where she had opened my latest book and dropped it at mention of Anna, fleeing from my new life. The trail vanished at my bedroom door, as though she had not dared to enter what was no longer hers.

An unquiet soul on unfinished business.

I walked back downstairs, scared, cold, hair bristling and at the same time, entranced as I had been for so long by her. In another place, in another life. I turned on the lamp from the old house, lit the oil burner with her favourite, sat and waited. Listened to our music.
She had loved me, hated me, loved me, died.
The journey to forgiveness is long and hard.
The journey to self-forgiveness is without end.

Rosie has left the house and is missed

Yes, Rosie the dog has moved to greener pastures after six weeks of fostering with us in which she learned to walk on a lead, became socialised with dogs and humans and completed her vaccinations etc after being rescued from the lost dogs home, where her end was nigh. She will stay for a short time with people with other dogs and then be adopted by a couple who live near a beach which allows dogs to run free.

It is a great development for Rosie and we, my daughter and I, knew that caring for dogs for a short period of time is the essence of fostering, but we miss her very much indeed.

I do not miss the chewing of doors and windows, the eating of the TV antenna cord, the destruction of the Blu-ray player, the stealing of laundry or the demolition of various pot plants. Nor will I miss her trying to eat any book I’m reading. We do miss the 20 kilograms of muscle and 100% love delivered with the exuberance only a puppy can offer and I’ll miss the walks along the river. I miss the torpedo hurling itself into my arms when I open the front door and my daughter misses her couch buddy.

So, the doors will be repaired, we’ll take a breather and then foster another mutt, this time aiming for a smaller and older dog better suited to inner suburban living.

Have a great life, Rosie! This is your second chance after being rescued by Forever Friends, a group of people devoted to rescuing animals.

love and power on a Melbourne tram

I was on the tram a week ago and a couple in their fifties sat opposite me, she better dressed and presented than he and both a tad flustered. My instinct tells me they are on their second marriage and it is ‘early days’. They appear to be seriously interested in each other and that’s nice. Let us call them Amy and Bill for no reason except for the fact they never used their names and I have to call them something. It occurs to me as I write that they used no endearments either and this is surprising. Perhaps they have been together for many moons?

Amy stops fiddling with her handbag and Bill squints at his phone in the way all us older folk do.

A conversation ensues on where they should leave the tram.

Amy. ‘Where do we get off?’

Bill. ‘Swanston Street.’ This is not a clever answer. It is a long street.

Amy. ‘But where?

Bill Googles. ‘Bourke Street.’

Amy. ‘Where did we get off Thursday?’

Bill. ‘Bourke.’

Amy. ‘Collins is better.’

Bill. ‘Okay.’

Amy looks out the window. ‘No, it’s fine.’

Bill. ‘Well, Collins then.’

Amy glances at me and looks out the tram window again. ‘That’s a nice building’.

It actually is not, however, it succeeds in throwing Bill off course.

Bill takes her hand, she lets him. ‘Where?’ He peers out.

Amy. ‘Bourke. It’s fine.’

Bill. ‘Collins is good.’

I am trying not to smile, this is like an amateur Pinter play where the silences and deviations mean more than the literal words.

Amy relents, looks at him, smiles. ‘Did you book?’

Bill. ‘No need.’

Amy. ‘It was busy Thursday night.’

Bill. ‘I’ll ring.’

Amy stiffens ever so slightly and looks out the window again. ‘It’s fine.’

I really want to applaud the way she’s playing him.

Bill. ‘You have a smudge here.’ He touches her face with love. A caress.

Amy rubs it off. ‘I’ve said to you before about that mirror.’

Ah, I think, so she was in his house last night and ‘wants a few changes’.

She glances at me again, I stay poker-faced and decide this will be great for my dialogue exercise with Writers Victoria in two weeks.

And so it goes. She is not being horrible and seems truly to like him and he adores her, though possibly is not up to the task.

Amy. ‘Which stop is it?

Bill. ‘After this one.’

Amy. ‘Here is good’.

She stands and he follows, she takes his hand and as they leave the tram, she looks back at me with the faintest of smiles and I allow myself a smile in return.

Bill was oblivious of my presence. For Amy, I was an audience and I understood that the little to and fro I witnessed had been for my benefit as much as an exchange between two lovers.
As I am ambled away at the next stop, I recalled my therapist saying years ago ‘David, all relationships are a struggle for power, at least in the beginning.’
BTW, Rosie the dog has been passed as ‘dog and child friendly’ and is up for adoption. She needs a more suitable home than we can give her, but she will be missed…