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The Breaking

Zooming through lockdown

10 September 2021

Like half the country, the ACT is back in lockdown and this means that a bunch of my IRL bookish happenings shifted to Zoom. But one that was always intended for Zoom was F*CK COVID: An Online Literary Affair, organised by the dynamic team at the ACT Writers Centre.

 

When the event was first proposed I remember thinking that online probably wasn’t necessary. Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra weren’t in lockdown — oh, how those days seem like a distant dream! But clearly the organisers are fortune tellers and this event ended up being the highlight of my locked-down weekend. Plus every time I typed ‘F*CK COVID’ it was like a fist punch of defiance.

 

The event sold out in three days. Then more tickets were released, and it quickly sold out again. I was on a panel with Mark Brandi, moderated by Nigel Featherstone, called ‘Hard truths; Risky fiction’, and what an absolute delight it was. Nigel was his usual magnificent and thoughtful self, expertly guiding the conversation, and Mark and I found so many synergies in our work and writing process.

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My ‘set’ for F*CK COVID

Mark’s The Others is an absolute cracker of a book and kept me up until the early hours of the morning. Like The Breaking, which I was there to discuss, it’s tricky to talk about without giving away key plot points! But I found our conversation so rich and thought-provoking, and I hope the audience did too! It’s always difficult post-event to remember exactly what was said, which is why Sue Terry’s incredible write-up of the panel is invaluable! I will defer to her summary of everything, except to say that I work full-time as an editor, not part-time, which makes finding time to write extra challenging, especially when you combine that with being a single parent of three children. But there are cracks in life, and I seize on them whenever I can!

Jumping now to school visits, I wanted to mention the gorgeous kids at Dawul Remote Community School which is located in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. This is where Zoom comes into its own, because how lucky was I to visit this school remotely! I shared the stage (or screen!) with DeadlyScience’s Corey Tutt. I was fortunate to edit Corey’s brilliant middle-grade book, The First Scientists (Hardie Grant, out 13 October 2021), so it was an absolute blast chatting to the kids with him. They had so many great questions about books and writing, and I came away enlivened, as I always do. My own kids are homeschooling during lockdown and were under strict instructions to keep out! Just one of the many challenges (as all parents know) of trying to simultaneously work and homeschool.

 

Next up was a pre-record for the inaugural Macgregor Primary Writers Festival — a whole week in which the school does nothing but celebrate books and writers. How blissful does that sound! They had an incredible line-up, including Andy Griffiths, Jackie French, Bronwyn Bancroft and yours truly, among others. If only I could travel back in time and be a kid at that school!

 

And finally there was my Editing Essentials presentation for SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) which covered editing the full gamut of kids books, from picture books through to YA. The SCBWI crew organised a stellar line-up and there was a lovely big crowd who had great questions. When asked which was my favourite children’s genre to edit I had to say ALL OF THEM!

These events have brightened my lockdown immeasurably. Massive thanks to all the organisers who are making sure adults and kids alike have plenty of literary goodness to sustain them in these crazy times.

Behind the book tour

8 April 2021

My debut novel, The Breaking, has now been out in the world for five weeks. That sounds like such a long time but it has zipped by in an absolute blur. I’m aware that the crucial first six weeks of a book’s life are almost over, and yet I feel like I haven’t had time to really process any of it yet. Every day brings a new email or tweet or Instagram post from a reader saying such beautiful things about my book that I almost can’t believe they are true. Did I really do this? I think. It’s all a bit surreal.

A few days ago I woke to an MP tweeting about my novel, followed by an email from one of Australia’s finest writers who said all the beautiful things about The Breaking and then concluded that she was ‘a little bit envious’ of what I’d achieved. That just blows my mind. Imposter syndrome has a way of making none of it truly stick. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.

 

Then there was the two-week book tour which was insanely wonderful and insanely exhausting. I flew into Brisbane (yes, I got on a plane!) where I collected my trusted hire car (aka Booktourmobile) and did an event at the gorgeous Avid Reader before spending the next two weeks travelling down the east coast. I visited 60 bookshops, had the most glorious conversations with booksellers and signed a gazillion books. Okay, maybe not a gazillion, but my signing pen certainly got a workout. I ended in Melbourne with an event for the equally gorgeous Readings.

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As I posted on the socials and people commented how exciting and glamorous it all looked, I made a point of recording the reality. I don’t sleep well in hotels, and there was a new one every night. Some days I was in four different locations. People would always ask me, ‘Where are you headed tomorrow?’ And I would smile apologetically and say, ‘I don’t know! I have to check my schedule.’ Which I did every night, because I could only hold one day at a time in my head.

I love a solo road trip. I listen to audiobooks, I blast music and sing till my lungs feel like they might tear. But I ate way too much chocolate and chips to keep myself alert. And I missed my long daily walks – my body felt jumpy. In one hotel, there were no knives so I used my finger to spread my breakfast toast with peanut butter. (I am not proud.) In the evenings I caught up with friends in various cities (wonderful) or worked till late catching up on emails (necessary), but both left me without time to pause. I often felt like my head was in 10 places at once. One day on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland I woke to a friend messaging me to say that a big fat rave review had appeared in the paper, but my schedule was so tight that I didn’t have time to even read it until 3 pm that day, in Lismore, NSW.

 

When my publisher organised the tour, I imagined hours off spent on the beach. Gold Coast, here I come! I packed three bikinis, which was foolishly optimistic. As it turned out I wore only one, on a perfect day in Coffs Harbour. I had a Sunday afternoon off and I walked for three delicious hours along the coastline, thinking that surely there were more days like this to come. But then the floods hit and I was just one step ahead of the worst of it, pulling the rain behind me as I headed south, watching all that destruction on the news, in places where I had just stood.

 

But all of that is incidental because oh, the booksellers! That’s what this trip was really about. And I met so many of them and had so many wonderful conversations about books and writing and reading. They made gorgeous displays of my books in windows, on front counters, display stands and at the very front of the shop (I had a tendency to walk straight past them, oblivious). Their support of The Breaking was humbling and just plain bloody wonderful. Booksellers are truly the best people in all of the world.

I’m going to finish this post with what was the beginning, my book launch at The Street Theatre in Canberra, because it was the moment when I got to send The Breaking out into the world. Karen Viggers launched the book so eloquently and said all the gorgeous things about me and the book. I am so glad that she handed me her speech notes afterwards, otherwise I would recall nothing of what she said. These events are always like that. But I do remember standing on that stage, looking out to my friends, family and fellow writers, and just feeling so grateful. It was a moment of joy, plain and simple.

I have used far too many adjectives in this post and the editor in me wants to strike them all out. But I have left them in because they actually aren’t enough to express how much happiness I feel. So let me finish by saying a massive, heartfelt thank you to every person who has bought The Breaking, or recommended it to a friend, or posted something lovely about it. To see it hit some bookshop bestseller lists has been a thrill (among many thrills), and that wouldn’t have happened without readers deciding to spend their dollars on my little novel. So, again, THANK YOU!

I have a copy of The Breaking to give away, thanks to my publisher. To go in the draw sign up to my monthly newsletter full of bookishly good stuff (sign-up box on this page) before 15 April, 5 pm.

The debut release storm

27 February 2021

I have started trying to write this post so many times but pre-publicity for The Breaking has me feeling like I’m in the middle of a storm. A tropical storm, perhaps (I love the tropics), but a storm nevertheless.

I had the best of intentions. Over the Christmas holiday period I knew I would have a couple of manuscripts to edit but that there would be plenty of time to write a bunch of guest blog posts and Q&A interviews. My plan was to get ahead on everything so that come release day I wouldn’t be overwhelmed.

There was one small problem that I hadn’t accounted for. Christmas slow mode. It happens every year, and yet every year I forget about it. My family came up from Melbourne (extra wonderful after all their months in lockdown) and I stopped working. I never stop working. One of the dangers of working freelance is that evenings and weekends are just extra work days, so I never really stop. And then when I do, it’s like someone switched my motor off. I didn’t want to go near my email, or even think about anything other than just being with friends and family and enjoying the summer. Then I took the kids north for a week (bliss), and then it was still school holidays. It took me a long while to get back into gear. And needless to say, instead of being ahead, I was then behind.

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I did manage to get some new author photos done. I’d been putting it off for so long because I loathe being in front of the camera, but I actually surprised myself by enjoying the shoot. All credit to the fabulous Karleen Minney who directed my awkward body into better photographic shapes. Well, except for this outake. I was at saturation point here and couldn’t figure out what to do with my hands (seriously, hands are the worst on a shoot).

Since then I’ve been doing interviews for print and podcast, writing more Q&As, signing stock that arrived early to some of my local bookstores, and working with my publicist to plan a book tour, which is super exciting. I was also on a panel with superstar combo Karen Viggers and Zoya Patel talking about the representation of women in contemporary writing, which was so much fun. And The Breaking was allowed to break its embargo for its first outing.

After launching in Canberra next Thursday 4 March I’ll be heading to Brisbane for an event at Avid Reader on Thursday 11 March and then spending two weeks visiting bookshops all down the east coast, ending in Melbourne with an event for Readings at The Collective on Tuesday 23 March. If you’re in one of these cities, I’d love to see you at these events!

It is a nerve-wracking thing releasing a book into the world. And although I’ve published a collection of short fiction and some children’s books, because this is my debut novel it almost feels like the first time again. Feedback from people who’ve read early copies of the book has filled me with such joy, especially from those I know whose opinions I respect enormously. And it is so happy-making to receive all the photos of readers’ pre-ordered copies arriving.

The book is officially in bookshops today, and on the weekend there was a lovely big spread in the paper ahead of its release. So this thing is on, the book’s out there, and I’m going to ride that wild storm to the end.

Bushfires and the mess of novel writing

17 February 2020

What a start to the year it’s been. Summer is my favourite season, but this year we have just survived it. In Canberra we suffered months of smoke from the South Coast and Braidwood fires, which meant my three kids — like all of Canberra’s kids — were confined indoors and didn’t get a proper holiday. After a brief but glorious break at Jervis Bay over the long weekend we returned to fires threatening Canberra’s south, where we live. Our suburb was on notice to potentially evacuate — we could see the fire from our home, and it was terrifying. So we packed up our most precious belongings and temporarily moved to my parents’ place.

 

On the fire went, chewing through over 80,000 hectares. We returned to our home and grew used to living with a fire that was permanently in our field of vision. I constantly switched between the ESA website and Fires Near Me app. Eventually cooler weather came, and then rain. Thanks to the phenomenal efforts of the firies and their support team, no homes were damaged during the worst conditions of 42-degree days and ferocious winds. The fire is still burning but its perimeters have been contained and the anxiety that we were living with is gone. But we lost our whole summer holiday to the effects of climate change. And this is only the beginning.

 

Amidst all this I was working on the edits for my debut novel, due out in March 2021. This was a lovely distraction. I love the editing process, which is probably not surprising given that I am an editor myself. I’ve turned in the first round to my publisher and am looking forward to the next.

In the meantime I have also been working on a new novel. Whereas my debut just flowed out of me, this one has been more challenging. My freelance editing work overwhelmed me at the end of last year and I didn’t work on the manuscript after August. In truth, I was also stuck. I had 50,000 words but it felt like one big hot mess and I wasn’t sure how to progress it. Then this month I received an email to say that my manuscript had been longlisted for a British manuscript award based on the first 5000 words. Suddenly I had nine days in which to submit the finished manuscript. That I didn’t have.

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I knew when I submitted to the competition that I would have to deliver the full manuscript in February and I had planned to use the deadline as a driving force. But I didn’t bank on getting stuck, and in any case I never really believed that I would be longlisted for an international manuscript award. It didn’t seem like something that would happen.

I remember Inga Simpson talking about being in a similar position with the manuscript that became her debut novel, Mr Wigg. She had submitted the first 50 pages to a competition and then received a phone call to say that she had 36 hours to submit the full manuscript. It was 5000 words short of the minimum word count. She joked that the only reason  she named her main protagonist Mr Wigg was because it was two words, instead of one. She made the deadline and has since published another three novels. So it can be done.

But could I do it? I had nine days and at least 20,000 words to write. But it wasn’t just a case of just adding words, the whole draft needed careful shaping. I’m a slow writer, and a dear author friend cautioned me against cobbling something together. There is a danger that once the words are on the page it can be harder to remove them, or undo a narrative path that doesn’t work. And in any case a substandard draft won’t make the shortlist.

Nevertheless, I opened the manuscript, which had been untouched for five months, just to see what was there. I was pleasantly surprised. I haven’t written this book in a linear way, as I did with my debut, so there were gaping holes in the narrative and sections that weren’t working, but it wasn’t as much of a mess as I had thought it was. I concluded that back in August it was really a mess in my mind. In the intervening months, although I hadn’t been writing, I had been thinking, trying to figure out where the heart of the book lay. And now it seemed so much clearer to me. So I started cutting, reworking and writing new sections. Better yet, I rediscovered the energy that had made me start writing the book in the first place.

There are now just a few days until the deadline. Will I meet it? I’m almost certain that I won’t. I’m annoyed at myself that I’ve missed the opportunity to get my work in front of the prestigious line-up of judges, but I couldn’t have done the process differently. Back in August I wasn’t ready to finish the first draft. Now I am. And I’m grateful for the boost of confidence that the award has given me.

During the early stages of a writing a novel it’s just you and the page and it’s so easy to be overtaken by doubt. One of my favourite quotes is from Zadie Smith who once said, ‘It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. And the main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself. This is hard to do alone.’ It’s the truth. So the longlisting has helped me get my mind back in the right place, and it’s also helped reignite the kind of energy that drives a book, for me at least.

The word count is rising again, and in April I’m heading to the Iceland Writers Retreat to work on the novel. I’m particularly looking forward to a workshop with Nigerian writer Elnathan John on ‘Fiction in a world of fiction: writing that matters’. Wish me luck, or at least the continuing ability to trick myself into confidence.