Tag Archives: novel

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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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…

 

Why I do not make New Year resolutions: a short story

Once upon a time a friend made a New Year resolution. He had done them before, this time it was serious, like those epiphanies we have when we awake before dawn and see that our life must change; we must lose weight or change jobs or leave a miserable relationship or resign our grindingly awful job: in short, that our current existence cannot go on. And then we forget or lose courage and indeed life does go on.

This time would be different. How difficult could it be to write a novel in a year? Let’s see, 80,000 words seemed the norm, so 200 words per day would do it. I mean, seriously, 10 sentences per day? Okay, he thought [we’ll call him Tom since that was his name], let’s be strategic and allow a few days word free, still leaves only 300 words per day. Tom could do this standing on his head.

Now Tom wasn’t a stupid man. He had been to university and all so he spent the first few weeks sticking index cards of plot and characters on a pin board like the writing guides told him and then spent another two weeks sketching his great work along the classic three act drama structure. This took longer than expected, but there were months left and his target was still only 350 words per day. The argument with Harry at work was unforeseen, as was the ensuing lengthy mediation process and now it was the end of March and Tom had written nothing and had nine months to write his masterpiece; he saw no problem as he had a brilliant plot and characters with whom readers would fall in love [and he knew not to end sentences with prepositions].

Come April, the cruellest month once more, and he sat to write every night when the family had gone to bed. Something was wrong. Ideas and words brilliant on the pin board fell lifeless on the page. The plot felt contrived and the hero kept going off in different directions. His beautiful, fiery and enigmatic heroine came across as a total bitch. Tom read another writing guide and agreed that there was no point flogging a dead horse [ he remained prone to clichés] and began again. He accepted the dictum that if it bored and frustrated him, it would do the same to a reader. This is an eternal verity

So be it. Fortunately salvation was at hand [clichés were still a problem]. He had four weeks summer vacation and dispatched his family to the seaside where he would ‘join them later’ once he had knocked out his first draft: he was a little taken aback with how readily his wife agreed to this.

For a month he stayed at home sweating and grumbling, drinking beer, flirting with the divorcee next door and rattling on his computer in highs of ecstasy and lows of self-flagellating gloom. Tom discovered Scrivener and wasted a week learning how to use it, consoling himself that time wasted now would be a productivity dividend down the track [Tom worked in the civil service and knew the jargon].

When his wife rang, he had been drinking on the porch in the evening sun and reacted badly when she said she was considering ‘staying over at Mum’s for a bit longer’ and one thing led to another as it does and words long stored unspoken were spoken and recriminations old and new were marshalled and sent to the battlefield and by the time the call had ended, so had his marriage.
Tom had an inspiration. He abandoned his still born draft and in a frenzy wrote 90000 words in the next two months, neglecting work, ignoring his wife’s messages and his kids’ pleas and letting his email pile up. He wrote a searing critique of marriage and modern society in a barely fictionalised version of his own life and swept it off for feedback to a freelance editor he found on the web and then sat and beamed. He had done it and by heaven he knew it was good, written from the heart with real characters and a story which would resonate with readers everywhere. His voice was authentic exactly like the guides demanded. Yes, and he had done it with four months to spare!
Such was his exultation that he took his compulsory redundancy from work in good cheer. Soon he would be a famous writer and nothing else mattered. Mid-October he received the feedback on his manuscript. Professionally brutal it was, enumerating every mistake made and warned against in every Writing for Dummies guide for aspiring writers, starting with adjectival and adverbial excess and ending with tautology via confusing POV and purple prose.
The last I heard, Tom was in rehab piecing his life back together.
And this is why I stopped making grandiose New Year resolutions to write and publish a novel in a year, contenting myself with a major redraft of my work-in-progress. Plus the usual bits and pieces.

NaNoWriMo: writing a sequel

yes, l am writing the sequel to my second draft completed and much more work to do novel manuscript. Bizarre, no? Not really.
1. I need distance and time away from my manuscript of 78000 words while I decide whether to do a third draft or to send it to an assessor for independent professional assessment. Writing a novel in a month, the infamous NaNoWriMo exercise, gives me time to reflect.
2. Maybe as important I have had the sequel in mind since early this year; sitting at my computer, sometimes the words flowing and feeling right and other times squeezing out words like dead flies accumulating against a window pane on a hot summer day in Australia. Inspiration struck on how I could continue their story and make my key characters suffer and suffer. Like every writing workshop tells us, right? Make them suffer! Oh trust me, they suffer for their love.
3. So, Tom and Anika are back! Spoiler alert: now you know they survive what is thrown at them on the Camino as they struggle in the maelstrom of murders. Ah, but you do not yet know how they survive and I agree that I have been slack or, more accurately, deliberately withholding, on that score.
3. Writing a sequel is also fun! My characters are so familiar, I know them like friends; what clothes they wear what they eat, how they talk and argue, how they walk, their little quirks and likes and dislikes and how they have aged and changed six years later as ‘the author’ puts them through their paces once again.
4. Writing 50,000 words in a month is quite exhilarating simply to rattle words on the screen without lots of prior planning and without a study full of index cards on boards or Scrivener corkboards! Totally different to my normal approach.
4 days down and 8,200 words in the bag = so far, so good.

This may be a terrible mistake

I have decided, sober and in the cold light of day, despite much trepidation and every common sense cell in my body saying ‘no’, that I shall participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time. This is a commitment to write a 50,000 word novel draft in one month starting tomorrow. I think 300,000 wannabes took part globally last year, what could possibly go wrong? So, yes, I have to write 1500 words tomorrow morning! That is, 1,500 words ….
Why undertake such a crazy mission? It has taken me two years to have a second completed draft of 80,000 words of the current manuscript and I aim for 500-1000 words most days, so the odds do not look good.
And yet. And yet, I have reached the stage of the current manuscript where I need to put it aside for a time and let it lie fallow (one of the few things I remember from my school days, that plus ‘why sea breezes?’) as I have applied for an ASA mentorship, entered another competition and need to ‘let it go’.
And also – drum roll – I have the plot and characters and setting for ‘my next novel’, published nothing yet, but it sounds good, right? and so I do have a flying start and am, believe it or not, eager to have a go at it and see where it might lead me. By nature I am a ‘plotter’ stemming from churning out academic books and articles in my past life as a university professor, and being a ‘pantser’ will be good for me; a bit like cold showers, AFD’s, clean living and long runs in the morning are ‘good for me’.
Anyway, I am committing myself publically to keep the pressure on myself; please feel free to check on me and keep me honest. Oh and wish me luck.

You believe your lover is a murderer: what do you do?

No, I am not talking on this post directly about my novel, though precisely this does happen to Tom on the Camino, nor about Gone Girl which is a neat re-working of the theme. In the so-called real world, the non-literary world let us call it, what would you do if you become suspicious and then convinced that your lover is a killer?
Infidelity leaves love a twitching corpse, but there is expectation of a full recovery [in time, as they say]. With murder, dead is dead.
Do you confront your lover? Well, you had better be right in your suspicions because if you are wrong you can kiss that relationship good bye.
Do you empathise and understand? Maybe the victim ‘deserved it’ or you convince yourself it is so; maybe it happened a long time ago, maybe you can find extenuating circumstances.
Do you simply love them and accept it – ‘love conquers all’
What is your moral responsibility?
Do you turn a blind eye because it is all too hard and horrible?
Do you watch and hope to learn more,sleeping with one eye open?
Do you ‘do your duty’ and turn them over to the law though it tears your heart apart?
And what if you are wrong?
What then?

Ritual deaths

Tom learns bizarre details of two pilgrim deaths on the Chemin near where he is currently walking. The deaths had been almost an intellectual puzzle to solve, now they take on a grisly reality.
The bodies of two elderly female pilgrims have been found in nearby villages, meticulously posed on the steps of little village churches in positions of prayer. It is as though they have fallen asleep and been taken by the angel of mercy whilst in the act of prayer; calm, meditative expressions on their faces and no sign of struggle or harm. No sign of violence and one could be simply the death of an old pilgrim struggling to reach the church for succour and shelter; two deaths the same is stretching coincidence too far.
Nobody except Tom seems to know or to care.
What is he to do?