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March 23, 2014

For the book launch, I asked Kate, my friend and editor, to say a few words about the writing process from her editor’s perspective. With less than 24 hours to the launch, a crisis in her extended family meant she would not make it … so she wrote a letter instead. Mary Ann read it out. It is worth a wider audience, so I have posted it below.

A little background: Kate has decades of experience in the publishing world under a number of different hats. She is also a poet. Put the two together and the girl’s eye for detail and for what is or isn’t working is  very keen indeed. Before my final push to find a publisher for ‘The Bracelet’, Kate offered her assistance. I find it difficult to say what exactly she did, but we worked through the novel piece by tiny piece for nearly four months and the final effect was that the writing was elevated to another level.

Anyway, I am deeply grateful for Kate’s experience, her persistence and her friendship. Here’s what she wrote:

Dear John,

This is not any kind of a ‘Dear John’ letter, because we’re not finished, but just beginning – at least, I hope you’ll be delighted to have me murder your commas again when your new book is ready for Torture By She Who Must Be Endured. 

‘Whatever!’ as your heroine, Kate, might have said, with a toss of the eye-balls.

This writing game is not for the timid, or the lazy, or the deluded – not if you’re serious.  And at the level that you’re operating, it’s not just about the satisfaction of ‘expressing yourself’.  It’s about tapping into all those good old-fashioned traits – self-faith, clear-eyed self-assessment, humility, pride, ambition and a devotion to the truth, even when it means you might have to accept that you’re not a writer’s elbow! When this happens, it’s about picking yourself up off the floor, and then it’s about being able to let go of a much-loved paragraph.  At it’s best, this is a whole-person endeavor, and you have understood this.

And of course, there is always, as you have demonstrated so well, a process – the lonely, exciting, scary, grinding process of creating the damn thing in the first place, and this process must be endured, embraced and enjoyed.  Then there’s the likes of me, poking around in every one of your sentences, questioning everything with a fresh, critical and maybe even a jaundiced eye.  It takes courage to open yourself up to this, and to be humble in the face of facts – and adamant when you need to be.

After which, of course, there’s the publishing process.  And the distribution!  Sadly, it’s so many years since I’ve been involved in the publishing part of the process, that I haven’t been able to help you with this.

John, you have understood all of this from the start, and your book is the lovely, polished thing that it is now because you have been fully prepared to go to the next hurdle and leap, and to leap again and again until you got to where you needed to be, which is here, today – your books piled on the table ready to be signed, ready to be sold, ready to go off into other people’s lives – ready to make a difference to our understandings, our relationships, and our expectations of what this ‘writing work’ might involve, and what it might be able to achieve.  Well done, you.

Self-publishing used to be called ‘vanity publishing’, but that term is not really appropriate anymore.  The publishing landscape has changed so radically in recent years that self-publishing has become the obvious choice for many writers who might once have reasonably expected to be taken up by a mainstream publisher.  These days, many writers of quality don’t even bother with the mainstream – they have such good alternative options.

I’m in awe of what you have achieved – not just as the writer of this novel, which is a jolly good book, but as a publisher. (In fact, I’ll be needing to pick your brains about this, and I’ll probably be only one of several!)  In any case, as I recall, by the time we were looking at a final draft, I told you that this book was certainly good enough to find a mainstream publisher.

I first saw the tiny germ of this novel a few years ago.  At that stage it was about 4 pages of tightly written (too tightly written) small-print stuff about a visit to a cemetery.  The paper itself was recycled – from school, probably, with something or other on the back that had been scratched out.  I didn’t know you and Mary Ann then – the pages were shown to me by another of our north coast writers, Bede Moloney.  Now those few pages have become this lovely novel.  How good is that?

I’ve been very lucky that my lifetime has encompassed such exciting times for writers, readers and publishing.  I’ve been privileged to work with, and write about some of our most wonderful authors.  But the biggest thrill for someone like me has been, from time to time, to witness the development of a book like this, and to contribute in a modest way.

Literature arises from within the community, and belongs to the community.  This novel now takes its place with some wonderful works that have been produced by Tasmanian writers.

Anyway, it’s launched now, and it’s ‘out there’, so it’s not just ours anymore.  It’s Tasmanian north-coast literature, Tasmanian literature, Australian literature, young adult literature, NSW literature, world literature.  It’s a novel.  It’s not an OK novel –  it’s a good’un.  If I had a few doves in my hat, I’d let them fly at this moment.

Congratulations, John, and bouquets for Mary Ann.