publishing

WHO’D BE A WRITER?!

I’m a writer.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m only a writer because I am utterly crap at everything else. Everything else. I have been many other things and failed miserably. I was a bank teller briefly but I harboured a sneaky desire to be a bank robber and that wasn’t going to work so I quit before the inevitable happened. I was a cleaner but I’m quite hyperactive and never took the time to do the job very well – a bit of spit and polish and a spray of air freshener and that was it. I never managed a Savoy corner on the bed-sheets or a completely smudge-free mirror. I taught kindergarten kids but I really don’t like small children unless they share some of my DNA and I often laughed when they fell off swings. I did a law degree and nearly died of boredom. The thought of being an actual lawyer made me break out in life-threatening hives. I almost got a job writing dating profiles for people looking for love  but I did not impress with my sarcastic and slightly offensive trial sample-profiles.

I always wrote stories at school and spent a life living in a world of make-believe. The nuns called me a day-dreamer. I could string a sentence together and liked writing and developed a weird fantasy about being Jackie Collins or Judith Krantz because they wrote wonderful smut that was banned from the school library and they made bucketloads of money and looked frightfully glamorous on their book sleeves while I was then a pimply teenager with a libido going haywire. But somewhere along the way, the fantasy fell flat because after many futile attempts, I realised that it was actually hard work to write a whole book.

But, after living a life like a headless chicken, trying a bit of this and a bit of that, and pretty much exhausting every other avenue, I decided to have a stab at being a writer and forced myself to write a book-ful of words in some semblance of order and started sharing it about….

Only to discover that the heady world of publishing that had routinely doled out six figure advances to writers and built them up into glossy celebrities…..had died and been replaced by some austere fortress being guarded by accountants. I learned that in the cold hard real world of ‘now’,  writers have to compete like beggars for a low four-figure advance and will be lucky to ever make a cent past it and will be forgotten and chucked in a bargain bin in the blink of a teary eye. No amount of bouffed up hair and eyeliner is going to make you a literary star…you have to write brilliantly and yet still make it something that people want to read en masse.

I don’t think I’m a particularly good writer. Every time I read a book by someone else, I wish until it hurts that I’d written it. Other writers weave words together so effortlessly, spinning humour and suspense while keeping the reader spell-bound and transported to other worlds and times and places. I love books. The look of them. The smell of them. The way they suspend belief and reality. How they sculpt my mind and emotions. I even love how they sit on book-shelves, upright, sideways or all in a pile. I’m a bibliophile. I love books more than cake. Every single book.

No. I lie. I actually really hate anything written by Neville Shute. I know that sounds mean and a little bit blasphemous. But I was forced to read one of his books as a school-kid and it felt like water torture and I’ve never forgiven him for writing it and can’t bring myself to try another. Like that time I got food poisoning from a fish-burger and can’t even look at another or Dimple Scotch which bruised me permanently with my very first hangover. I’m sure Neville’s books are wonderful but the childhood trauma won’t leave me, so it is what it is. Everyone has a favourite writer (mine is Emily Bronte because she writes like a mad-woman) and I suspect everyone also has a least favourite. Oh, I also hate Beatrix Potter. Another sacrilege. But it’s more about the illustrations. I don’t trust those small water-coloured animals and I keep reading between the lines of her text looking for something really nasty and sinister and I always end up disappointed and faintly nervous.

So I’m a writer. It has its up side…I never get out of pyjamas. I work in bed. I am thirteen paces from the kitchen pantry. I don’t have to speak to other humans. I can kill people and have wild affairs…on the page.

The down side is that I think my butt cheek has died. No, really. I think my gluteus maximus has atrophied from sitting in the same spot day in day out, tapping words into a laptop. Also three of my fingers (the ones that hit the most popular vowels and consonants like a and t on the keyboard) are showing signs of deteriotive erosion. I’m not even making this shit up although I’m a writer so I’d forgive you for thinking so.

Also, being a writer is very, very bad for your self-esteem, your ablity to get along with other flesh and blood people and your general mental health…and your body parts. You will pour your heart onto the page and send it full of good cheer and hope and wishes to those living in the impenetrable fortresses via the wire and you will wait and wait and wait and wait and wait…..ad infinitum….until maybe….someone tells you that your work is CRAP. They rarely use that word. Usually they will say something like ‘good luck but not for us’. Most politely pretend they never saw your words and you will just wither forever waiting for that never-coming response. Rejection will become so common that you stop being disappointed when one comes pinging into your inbox like a fart-bomb and you’ll throw your head back and laugh like Jim Carrey and scream ALRIGHTY THEN!

Or….rarely….like once in a polka dot moon….someone will like what you wrote and contract it and then change it to be more like what they want and less what you thought it was and you will end up with a book that is loosely what you started but with the fingerprints of many others on it and you will look at it and sigh….’I’m a real writer now’ and then you will discover GOODREADS and learn that you only think you’re a writer and anonymous people with profile photos of cats have realised immediately that your book is a sham and it sucks and you should go back to writing dating profiles for losers that no-one could ever love.

But maybe I’m just being cynical.

It is all worth it. The dead bum. The gnarled fingers. The abject poverty. The smell of my week-old pyjamas that are gunked into my crevices and will need to be showered off, leaving raw patches of skin.

I have a new book coming out and I am so, so excited. This one. Maybe this one will be it. I’ll puff up my hair and slap on some lippy and put on real clothes and go out and flog it to the masses. I’ll pretend I don’t read the bad reviews while using the reviewer’s name as a character in my next novel, the character who has their entrails unraveled by the dashing serial killer….and I’ll walk past the bargain bin the very next week and pull my leftover books out and buy them all and give them as gifts to family members for the next few years.

No…I’m sorry. I seem to be painting this picture of being a writer all wrong. It’s actually a dream come true. My name on an actual book. In a book store. A library. It is a thrill. An incredible thrill, to hold your very own book in your hands. All the words came out of your heart, your head, your soul. The thrill is like…so thrilling…it’s…there are no words. But it’s short-lived.

It’s short-lived.

I love being a writer because it teaches you things. It teaches you humility (and a bit of humiliation); it teaches you courage (and a little bit of masochism); it teaches you resilience (and a little bit of naivete)….

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Who’d be a writer? Me.

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Books – plural

I love books. Ever since I lay in bed as a little girl and listened as my mother read ‘Robert the Rose Horse’ to me….books have been my magical land of possibility. At the age of five, I was inspired by Robert the rose-horse. Even though he had some serious allergy to roses, he kept persisting, until eventually a major sneezing attack finally cured him and he could smell roses without fear from then on. He also took out a group of bank robbers with his final almighty snot-burst so HERO.

As a teenager I fell in love with Heathcliff and danced on the moors in my imagination (wearing Kate Bush’s red dress of course!). I also fell in love with Atticus Finch although he was way too old for me. And then I discovered the titillating sexcesses of Judith Krantz and the like and sat in the costume cupboard in the drama department at school reading steamy passages from ‘Princess Daisy’ aloud to my horrified girlfriends. That eighties stuff leaves Fifty Shades for dead!

I always wanted to be a writer. I always wrote. So now that I have three published books I can finally say I am a real writer and loving it. It’s sometimes lonely and my body will probably kill me for being so sedentary (writing in bed in my pyjamas)…..but I am thrilled to announce that I have been offered a two-book deal for the follow on books to HEXENHAUS. This is new level of excitement.  Just saying ‘two-book deal’ makes me feel like a grown-up writer with real promise! Shame the advances aren’t like they were back in the eighties! I may not be able to buy a swanky Manhattan penthouse but I will be able to register the car!

Hexenhaus tells the story of three witch-girls (well they are ‘accused’ of witchcraft…) My next will feature three very strong girls who become through circumstance – warrior-women. In their fight against racism, war, colonialism and sexism, they find an inner strength that we all have but rarely need to call upon. The third book is in the works. It will introduce three young wordy-women.  All books will come under the trilogy umbrella of ‘The Systir Saga’. I do love writing for a young adult audience but I’m also moving into adult fiction…..stay tuned for more news there.

I am currently (yes in bed in the p.js) busily writing a screenplay, a novel of thought-provoking women’s fiction, entering short stories in competitions, about to start a second draft of my second memoir and I’ve just been diagnosed with some horrid auto-immune disease that is causing my hands to hurt like they’ve been dipped in boiling oil (lupus if you must know). So I am busy. And in pain. And extremely excited about the future. And scared.

Writing is my salvation. It makes all the bad bits better. When I write,  my characters become my family and sometimes I dream about things I have written and wake thinking they are real. I have even written scenes that soon after come to pass. Weird. But wonderful. Spooky fiction working its way into reality, crossing that invisible, diaphanous divide.

I’m also currently reading Jenny Valentish’s ‘Woman of Substances’ and loving it.

My teenage daughter just finished Fleur Ferris’s ‘Risk’ in a single-nail-biting sitting.

Books. What a wonderful world. Reading. Writing. Staying in bed.

Oh…and very uncomfortable hands.

That’s my check-in for Wednesday.

Nik x

 

 

 

Literary Gestational Blues

There is nothing more exciting for a writer than getting that call that tells you a manuscript has made it through the treacherous fertilization process – the acquisitions meeting at a publishing house. Before that time your dream of a book is just that – a dream. You may have the words down and you may have an interested editor but they have to come together and get the endorsement, the fusion, that only a positive vote in the boardroom can provide. The development and arrival of a new book are often likened to the human birth process. While defying all odds to get there, books keep arriving on the shelves. It seems like a smooth factory, a literary conveyor belt, seamless and ceaseless. But if you were to go deep within the body of the publishing industry you would see just how difficult it is for an embryonic seed of story to become a full-blown book with a cover, spine and lots of leaves. For every one that succeeds, thousands fall by the way side, forgotten, discarded, delegated to that cavernous bottom drawer or Amazon kindle.

When I got that call about my upcoming novel ‘Hexenhaus’ I swore and cried, almost like when I’d found out I’d been pregnant in real life. I was full of hope, great expectations and fear. Would it all be okay, would I like the cover, would anyone read it? Because some books, like kids, become disappointments. I jest. No kid, of course, ever becomes a disappointment. Every single one is adorable in their own way. Adolph Hitler’s mother probably liked him. Charles Manson probably made sweet gurgling noises as he suckled from his beloved mother….Not disappointments so much as …some books just don’t make a lot of friends. You know what I’m saying? But when I got the call that I was going to have a new book, I was ecstatic, relieved and overjoyed.

Nine months is a walk in the park. This gestation will take fifteen months from that phone call to delivery. You get the call, you pop the champagne and then the early boredom sets in while nothing, nothing, nothing seems to happen. It took about six weeks for the contracts to be finalised and signed because one person or another involved in the process went on leave, got sick or spent more time tending to more fertile writers’ needs. No bitterness, none. When I’m selling like J.K. Rowling I’m sure things will move more quickly. High hopes! Then I waited, no belly-swelling except for the endless chocolate biscuits and more champagne. Thumbs twirled until they nearly became unscrewed.

Then a month later I got structural edits….big sweeping changes like the order of stories. My book tells the stories of three young women’s adventures through real-life tortures at the hands of witch-hunters. This is, I am sure, much more painful and terrifying than being pulled apart by the hands of editors. At this point your characters put on more flesh and your words get snipped away so that the narrative doesn’t get lost in the detail. All good. Getting smoother. This is where you hear the words ‘story arc’ a lot.

Three or four months after that I started copy edits. This is a big book with a lot of subject matter (and torture and hedgehogs). It was a daunting copy edit made more difficult by my challenging relationship with technology. My new editor was patient and diligent with a wonderful eye for getting my baby into the best health possible for her upcoming ordeal (exposure to the harsh elements of readership). In many ways an editor is like a fairy godmother, turning bits of pumpkin into crystal.

A cover arrived fresh from the designer and with a tweak here and there, we had Hexenhaus looking good. This is like seeing a 3-D ultrasound photo of your baby. It’s very exciting.

Then came the first pages and the proof-reading. It’s amazing how inept an eye can be and even after multiple reads I would find something I’d missed. Done and dusted and ready for the type-setter….

That’s where I am at now. Awaiting a nice endorsement from a peer/literary idol…that doesn’t say….’what a load of codswollop’. Thinking about book launches (baby showers?) Getting invited to writer’s festivals for next year (that’s exciting…they are like those baby pagents where you parade your baby about in public….hmmm…not really). Starting to tell everyone and anyone that I am having a book…a book…a book….on October 31st. People are getting sick of hearing this but I DON”T CARE!

I am already thinking about her sibling and I already have a name. Victorieux. Instead of a book about three witches, this one will be about three warrior girls. You know you are impatient when you are planning your next child while still awaiting the one in your belly (publisher’s office).

I am bristling with excitement. Hexenhaus is wriggling and writhing and cannot wait to get into the fresh air of bookshops with the smell of lovely, woody untouched pages on her breath. I feel her pulsing with longing to be held by gentle, loving reader’s hands, who fall asleep at night with her resting on their chests.

It is a long, fretful, finicky time, this book-cooking caper. But it is labour of love, a magical and miraculous journey.

Write a book. Find the perfect publishing partner. It’s not easy but neither is true love. Nurture your baby and that moment when you hold her in your hands for the first time will be like no other feeling. I can’t wait to hold Hexenhaus. I feel like crying just thinking about it. Soon, my darling, soon.

Life’s a Witch

 

My new blog. Gearing up for a brilliant 2016. My Brilliant Year. The most exciting thing about 2016 that I can think of so far……is….that I have a new book being published! This is almost as exciting as welcoming a new baby into the family, being just as terrifying and awesome and sometimes messy.

Some days I have to remind myself that this is real because the only thing harder than getting a book published, is getting a second one published and here I am gestating my third book-child.

One Way or Another was a troublesome, exciting, willful and difficult child who threw me into the public arena, howling and screaming. It was a rush. There were interviews with the Footy Show guys, three-page spreads in the Sunday Magazine splashing my dirty laundry all over the country and twitter trolls. She was a mischievous imp of a book.

Then came Sandy Feet, a gentle little boy book that whispered sensitively and wrapped himself up in angsty knots. It was a book that was born of some personal pain and drew on some of my legal studies. He will always be my very special baby.

This year …..we will have a big, epic sweeping tale of witches, yes witches. This new daughter of mine, tentatively called Hexenhaus will be strong-minded, brave and ambitious. This baby will be a lot like me – outspoken, deeply and passionately devoted to feminist issues, while employing a few mystical magic tricks up her skirts along the way. The due date is late September and little Hexenhaus is already stirring my belly with excitement.

I am looking forward to editing with a brand new editor….she will be, like the others before her, my midwife, and given that this book is about the terrible European witch-hunts it seems a fitting description given that many of the victims of that holocaust were midwives.

I am off to my first writers festival in Brisbane in April to discuss the relationship between rock and roll and literature. Exciting times.

In 2016 I will turn 50 but I go into the new year feeling about fifteen. The future looks bright. I just have to survive Christmas first…..