Tag Archives: fiction

Writing from trauma

I am taking a break from my novel set on the Camino. The ms was never intended to be autobiographical though it drew on my experiences and encounters walking across France on the Via Podiensis and across Spain on the Camino and drew on a personal interest in dying with dignity and assisted suicide. Not to mention experiences of madness and death and all the other stuff of everyday life.

It was not until I received editorial feedback praising some parts of the ms and criticising others, that I realised how intensely personal and introspective the novel had become. It seems astonishing now that I never realised how entrapped I was in old wounds/traumas and their working out in fiction.

So I am putting the ms aside for a year to gain distance and perspective, maybe to undertake workshops on writing about the past. The novel, I repeat, is not ‘my story’ per se and is not a memoir except in a psychological and existential way I was too blind to see until I was poked in the eye from editors. While I let it lie for a year, I am contemplating attending ‘memoir writing’ workshops to learn skills of perspective and especially of extracting the universal from the personal.

In case you think you’re now safe from my scribbling, not at all.

I have begun writing a novel about universities and commercialisation, a topic dear to my heart for 10 years. See my next blog post for further information.

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…

 

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

Remember what we promised not to tell mummy?

Are you ready for another tram story?
Mid-afternoon, I’m heading home on the tram and a woman of hmm, maybe 45, sits opposite me with a girl whom I guess is five. After idly kicking me a few times [the girl not the woman] and after taking off her enormous Frozen backpack and hitting the guy next to me in the face, the girl settles and the woman apologises. The guy next to me flees to another seat.
The girl stares and I stare back. She [the girl, not the woman] pokes out her tongue, I wiggle my ears and raise one eyebrow. I win.
Silence for a time and then the woman says to the girl.
‘Remember what we talked about?
Umm.
‘We talked about it before, remember?’
umm.
‘We promised not to tell mummy.’
Now I’m getting interested.
Little girl continues to look blank.
‘We promised not to tell mummy. Remember? We agreed not to tell mummy.’
‘Yes’ says the little girl, though it is clear she has no idea of what’s going on.’
‘Remember what we promised not to tell mummy.’
Girl ignores woman.
The woman sighs and gives up and looks out the tram window. A few stops later they get off.
My imagination is running hot.
What must mummy not know? What is the big secret? What is the relationship between the woman and the girl? Eccentric aunt? Mummy’s girl friend? A friend giving mummy a break?
What have they done that mummy must not know?
Did ‘auntie’ get drunk during their girls day out in the city and lose the little girl? Fallen asleep? Robbed a bank? Spent the day at the casino? Fed her sugary treats despite this being forbidden?
Okay, okay, the explanation doubtless is more mundane. ‘We agreed not to tell mummy about her surprise birthday present’ or ‘we agreed not to tell her that you wet your pants [the girl, not the woman] or chucked a tantie or’…
Whatever, interesting character observation and a fun way to spend 20 minutes grinding along Lygon Street.
What do you think was too secret to tell mummy?

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.