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Archive for the ‘Autobiography’ Category

I saw this photo some years ago. The caption underneath read: George was 22 when he started writing his novel. The implication was that he was still writing it. I could relate to that. I was still writing Those Brisbane Romantics fifty years later. On and off, admittedly, but still writing it. I wrote the 1st draft in 1963-5. In 1967, this was placed 2nd to published author Hugh Atkinson’s manuscript The Rabbit. In those days, Australia had no Vogel Award for an unpublished manuscript by a writer under thirty-five.

(Bear with me, WordPress changed its formatting when my back was turned and, despite many attempts, I have NO IDEA how to get the text to run beside the photo. I tried. I tried ….)

To resume: in 1969, Brian Clouston of The Jacaranda Press offered me publication of the work, then in the 3rd person, if I cut it to 100,000 words (about one-third of its horrifying length). At that time, I had no idea how to do this. Life took me up. The savings from my first job were gone. I put the novel away and crawled up the steps of the State Library. They gave me a job in the John Oxley, the historical section. Later, I moved to the Department of Primary Industries. While working as a cataloguer for the second, I met Queensland poet Michael Sariban. Two children later, my hands, and my life, were full.

I resumed writing in 1990, very much behind the eight ball. By now, I was a single parent. I hunted competitions and high-paying mags the way lions once hunted springboks on the veldt, and was lucky to win a number of awards for my short stories, and/or have them appear in such wildly different publications as Penthouse and the Australian Women’s Weekly. I never aimed for the literary mags (big mistake as it turned out). Lit mags didn’t pay well, and the family needed the money.

Around 1993, I decided to resuscitate the novel. I edited Romantics to 115,000 words, mostly by condensing dialogue. Still needing lucre, I put it away and wrote Found: One Lover with Louise Forster, which won the Emma Darcy Award for Romance Manuscript of the Year 2000.

In 2005, Susan Geason https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Geason suggested I rewrite Romantics in the 1st person point-of-view. It took me some time to figure out how to do this. Eventually I succeeded in producing a manuscript of 108,000 words written from the 1st person POV as a fictional memoir. Susan took one look at it and said, “Nice try. But it’s not going to work.”

I went away and wrote the feel-good animal fantasy MagnifiCat, which was picked up by Sydney agent Rose Creswell. When she retired with the manuscript unplaced, in 2013, I put M’Cat up as an e and POD book on the web: https://books2read/u/3n8k6K It was at this point I discovered that publishing your book on the web is an appallingly dreadful experience. (The Amazon algorithm had a ball with the title MagnifiCat. All my Also Boughts were religious. 😊

A tiger for punishment, I then put my short stories together in a linked short collection entitled Dropping Out: a tree-change novel in stories, and put that on the web. I was still licking my wounds when it was shortlisted for the Woollahra Digital Literary Award in 2016: https://goo.gl/FtL0zz

Then I went back to Romantics.

With Susan holding my hand long distance through four more drafts, finally, at the end of 2017, I had a 98,300 word draft written in the 3rd person. Then, in 2018, I moved to Brisbane. This set me back two years.

When I recovered, I returned to the novel. (This is beginning to sound like “The Bricklayer’s Accident Report” by Gerard Hoffnung.) At the proof stage, I took out three more scenes, (you shouldn’t do this), and the finished work is now around 95,000 words.

It’s a very young book; everyone in the novel is under twenty-five and single. Technically, it’s an upper-end YA novel, which is how it came to grief. Traditional publishers held up crucifixes when they saw this marketing nightmare coming, even though, by this point in the saga, the manuscript had been shortlisted nationally for the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival and internationally for the University of Exeter’s Impress Prize.

Such is life, as Ned Kelly is claimed by some to have said.

Because of delays with the US cover designer, Romantics won’t see the light of day until early November. It will be interesting to see what happens.

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Girl looking out window

It’s strange the way things pan out in life. My career as a writer almost didn’t happen.

I was in 3rd grade in primary school, slowly getting on top of things, when we were sent home one day with instructions to write our first composition.

I trudged home, very unhappy. My career as an even halfway-coping schoolkid was over. I knew I’d never be able to write a composition.

My mother was in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. Unusual for him, my father was also home; there’d been very few ships in port that day. When he saw me slumped in misery at the kitchen table, he asked me what was wrong.

I said, “We have to write a composition about trees, and I can’t write compositions.” and I began to cry.

My father put down his newspaper and said, “It’s okay. Whatever the subject is, you just talk about it.”

“Talk about it?” I wailed.

“Yeah,” he said, “like how they’re green and leafy and they give people shade. Do you like trees?”

Of course I liked trees. I practically lived in the loquat tree up the back.

“Have a go,” said my father, returning to his paper.

I sat there, chewing the end of my pencil, and tried to write as if I was talking about trees. That half-page took me the best part of an hour.

“How’d it go?” said my father, who must’ve been watching my progress from behind his paper. He read through what I’d written. “Not bad,” he said. “But it needs something.” And he dictated a line about leaves dancing when the wind blew; something quite poetic. “Slip that in somewhere,” he said.

I rewrote the piece, placing the line he’d dictated where, I hoped, a teacher was least likely to notice the extra zing it put into my dreary effort.

 

By the time the English teacher came into the room carrying our exercise books three days later, I very much regretted using the line my father had written. Now, it was all too late, as she began to deal with each composition in turn, from worst to best — a tried and tested form of torture even when your conscience is clear, and mine certainly wasn’t. Eventually, there were no exercise books left but mine. I was convinced she’d saved mine ‘til last because she intended to expose me before the whole class. Why had I let my father talk me into adding that line about leaves in the breeze?

To my surprise, she pronounced my composition the best, and read it out to the class. I felt no elation, though it was the first time I’d ever come first in anything. How, I asked myself, was I going to continue this run? My father was leaving in a few days for a job at sea. What on earth was I going to do?

Inevitably, we were given a new subject to write about. I trudged home and sat at the kitchen table. Nothing came. I felt like the girl in the fairy tale who was supposed to spin straw into gold. Or else.

In desperation, I decided I’d pretend to be my father. Clearly, I had no talent for writing, but he did. Okay, Dad, I said to myself, what have you got to say about pets? And I began to write.

I was stunned when that composition also came first. Around me, there were boys in tears, boys who hadn’t been able to get even four lines onto the pages of their exercise books.

I knew how they felt.

It was pure chance my father had been home that day.

 

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