at LINC Burnie, 4.30 – 6.00 pm, 12th February 2014
12th February, 2014 -11.50 pm
We did it!
There were 35+ people there. Steve and Rachel Dobbie have the prize for coming the furthest – Sydney! There was lots to eat and drink, though no-one went for the hot drinks … the air-con was out. Despite that, people seemed cheery enough, and we sold 14 books! I would have been happy with a quarter of that number. Ages ranged from 15 years up to somewhere in the 80s. Some have drafts in the cupboard, at least one has a published book to his name, there were more than a couple of projects peeping out, and there were four English Writing teachers in the audience. Daunting.
… WHAT I SAID
…. QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
After coming up zip in the search for someone to speak beside me, I devised a plan for MA to say a little about what it’s been like for her to be part of the process over the years, for Kate, my editor, to speak as an editor, and for me to do my thing – in line with the whole, self-publishing experience of doing it by ourselves.
At the last minute Kate had to pull out but, darling that she is, she wrote a wonderful piece that Mary Ann read in lieu of her speech. [See the next post.] She ‘said’ so much about the whole writing process; it was edgy and complimentary at the same time while being full of insights about writing. It was humbling to listen to it. I was able to thank MA and Kate and acknowledge the massive roles they played in getting the book to this point.
One question helped me to clarify something I have been thinking about for a little while now: I used to think of ‘author’ as being the person whose name appears on the cover, but not anymore. Getting The Bracelet out has been a collaborative effort. Yes, it was my idea/concept/ signature on the bottom of the final contract, but I now humbly submit that, without the help of at least six other people, it would still be a long way from being out, let alone being polished to the extent that it is.
Did I mention that we sold 14 copies? Yee-hah.
I received two invitations to visit local schools to talk to seniors about writing. That motivates me to maintain the energy in the marketing/distribution. There will be a book signing at Not Just Books on Saturday, 12 – 2pm.
Two things I would do differently in future.
1. Choose a different part of the book to read.
2. Not lose my speech notes! Some things never change, it seems.
Otherwise, we did well – very well for our first attempt.
The word for the night: SURREAL.
WHAT I SAID … in point form
- Thanks to Kate. If she were here now, I would hug her and grin and say thanks.
- Joke: I was told to be funny, so I have made up a joke:
– Why did the chicken cross the road?
– To get to the book-book launch. (The joke is in the pronunciation, so it doesn’t translate too well. Don’t feel bad if you don’t think it’s funny. OK?)
People laughed but I refrained from telling the more existential follow-up:
– Why did the chicken go tot the book launch?
– Because crossing the road without a reason is unheard of.
- The question I have been asked most often already this afternoon is ‘How long did it take you?’ The answer is about 6 ½ years. If I had known when I started how long it would take I may never have begun it. So, if you think you have novel in you, my advice is, get cracking.
- Another question is ‘Where did the idea for the book come from?’ The answer to that is a bit more involved.
- There is a bracelet that has been handed down the generations – my daughter now has it. It was won in a horse race in the late 1800s, the horse was owned by my great-grandfather and it was ridden by Dick Skuthorpe, one of the famous horse-riding family.
- My mother was a beautiful woman – feminine, attractive, a fine singing voice – but she was most unhappy with God that He had made her a woman. Being a mother was her consolation, but she loved doing the work of a man on the farm as well. She could ride with the best of them, work the cattle in the yards, had her father’s nouce when it came to stock, but had to cook tea, clean, do the washing – all that as well.
- She told us stories about her grandmother whom she loved dearly. I think Mum and Grandma were kindred spirits. Grandma grew up on the frontier in outback NSW. When the men were away with cattle or sheep work, Grandma was the eldest child left with her mother at home, which also doubled as a pub until she was about fourteen. Mother would never touch a rifle, so when it came to defending the home and family, it was up to Grandma to do the shooting. And she did.
- The idea that, through my mother, I have a connection with this remarkable woman who lived in those amazing times still boggles my mind. I wrote as much down as I could find out about Grandma and her family and printed it for my family.
- So there I was in 2006. I had just begun a Masters in Writing and Literature and I was kicking these anecdotes around, trying to turn them into fictional stories that would pass as assignments, when I finally had a bright idea: Why not write a novel?
- Let us not dwell on the naivety of that little lightbulb moment.
- In 2007 I made the first notes about the contemporary characters and events I would need to facilitate the telling of a tale from the late nineteenth century. The novel grew in a ramshackle way from that point on. I invented characters, plot events and settings as needed. Early on I drew up a family tree to anchor the fictional reality. But I wrote bits and pieces and later went back to stitch the pieces together.
- Along the way the focus shifted from the nineteenth century characters to the present day – to Kate, the main character. She is special to me now. She developed from a means-to-an-end into her own person and she is now the focus of the novel. Like Mum, she is a strong character, one of a line of strong women.
- This is a book about the messy things in life and dealing with them. It is about love and loss, death and grief – it’s about seeing our adolescent selves in the rearview mirror as others might see us. It’s about living in small places, then leaving them, and returning … and trying to fit back into where you once fitted but fit no more.
- It is not a ‘Lust in the Dust’ book, though there is the occasional scene that I would be embarrassed to read to teenage girls and boys. There is a bit of violence and fair bit of cussin’. It is not a soppy book, the characters are tough, edgy.
- Followed a reading from the book. (I gave folk a choice between funny or serious – Rowan wanted funny so I read from the football match late in the book. I need to review the extracts I have ready.)
13th February, 2014 -11.00 am
Question and Answer time
Q – Did you have a plan?
A – No. I felt like Dr Frankenstein sometimes, stitching together these pieces that I had written sporadically over the two years to make a whole thing. I had a starting point, an idea for the structure, sort of, and a collection of characters.
Q – What would you do differently next time?
A – Investigate a program called Scrivener. It’s supposed to be brilliant at helping novelists to keep their stuff organised.
Q – What is your next project?
A – It’s a non-fiction work. In May 1945, a training accident at an Army base just outside Wagga in NSW blew 26 young men to pieces. Two days later they were buried in the local military cemetery. It is still the largest military funeral on home soil, but until recently, even the local population was largely oblivious to it. It had been forgotten except by the families of the men. Each of these 26 was only ‘important’ because they were 26. If it had been 19 men killed, it would not be a record and it would be different, perhaps. But each of the 26 left behind a particular shaped hole in their families. And the families are still coping with that gap in their lives. So the book is a way to honour them and acknowledge their grief.
Q – What was the balance of the work your editor did with you – the balance between addressing the commas and the big picture issues?
A – I am fortunate to have a gifted reader in my wife, so she actually did a great deal of the big picture stuff before Kate got to see the manuscript. There were many issues of consistency because of the way I wrote it, in bits and pieces. So I’d ask Mary Ann to read a sequence and she’d provide some feedback about what did or didn’t work for her. Then, as it started to come together, she pointed out the inconsistencies.
I sent the first draft up to James Moloney but her only got through about 90 pages. His response to me was ‘It’s called The Bracelet, but the bracelet appears briefly then disappears for the next 90 pages. That’s a problem.’ So I had to go back to it and do a whole lot of rewriting.
By the time Kate saw the whole work, it had already undergone much revision and ironing out of the wrinkles. Kate, however, also picked up on some big picture issues, such as the beginning, which she thought just did not work. What was the beginning now appears at about page 60 and the present opening sequence was made up entirely.
The new went though the novel line by line. She questioned the punctuation, some of the wording, the images used – everything. A great deal was left unchanged, but I had to justify, to myself as well as to Kate, much that remained unchanged.
Q – What were some of the pieces that you really liked that got edited out?
A – The opening. Even though it appears later in the book in a revised form, it is changed. And there is a section that has a series of letters in it. In the original, there were twice as many, but it was too slow, so I cut them back sharply to keep the momentum of the story going.
Q –What was the problem with the beginning?
A – I was trying to be clever. I wanted to create the echo-effect, a frame for the novel, so that it begins and ends with the same sort of scene, even, the same scene. Very literary, but it didn’t work in this novel. Mary Ann had tried to tell me this much earlier but I didn’t want to hear it. By the time Kate was telling me I had had enough and was ready to concede.
Q –Is there a worry that the editor can have too much say?
A – Yes. A ‘bad editor’ will try to shape a work according to their own ideals. But a ‘good editor’ will point out what does not work, in their view, and there might be a discussion of that and alternatives, and the writer then goes off and deals with it. That’s how the present beginning sequence came to be.
I used to think there was one author, the one whose name appears on the front cover. Not so anymore – it is a collaborative effort. Yes, it is my concept, my drafting, but there has been so much given by others that I really do see it as more a collaborative effort now. Writers need editors.
Q – When you were writing the novel, did you ever sit down to write have nothing happen?
A – Yes. But I couldn’t afford to just sit there and watch the scenery. Sometimes I was not in the right headspace to write the next thing that needs to be written. That was one of the good things about writing the novel in bits and pieces.
There was always research to do if I got really stuck.
But often I could attend to other things, non-creative things like editing, organising files, attending to correspondence, transcribing sections I had written in longhand, etc.
What I found usually happened then was that my headspace would change and I could go on and do some of the creative work.
One of the really liberating insights from the process that came after a while was that so much of what I write gets tossed out. Partly, perhaps, that is because I often need to write myself in to a story or a character rather than make it up in my head first, then write it down. I’d have done it pretty tough if I’d been writing in Jane Austen’s era, or Charles Dickens’ office, working with nibs and ink bottles and loose sheets of paper.
Q – Did you ever want to give up?
A – Yes. The knockbacks, or even worse – the no replies, were hard to take sometimes. To lift my spirits early on a friend told me that no-one can count themselves a real writer until they’ve had 29 rejections. (It actually worked for me!) Then there were the occasions when the sheer enormity of the task left to do – even to finish the first draft – would get me right down.
PS I could do more of this. Thank you to everyone who supported me.