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Most writers engaged in producing a novel have some wellspring of hope the work will someday see the light of day. Acclaim would be great, they think, but even publication — ah, publication! — would be a wonderful, perhaps life-changing, event. This hope of publication just over the hill is often the only thing that keeps the writer going through the long, solitary journey.

Long distance runner

In my particular case, it actually appeared as if I was in with a chance of having a traditional publisher for the book I’m about to put up on Smashwords and Amazon this November. Way back in 2003 or thereabouts, I sent the 3rd draft of an animal fantasy set in Byron Shire to one of the foremost agents in Australia. I’d been stalking this agent for years, trying to tempt her with various projects. When she accepted this manuscript without reservation, I was ecstatic, this lady handled big names like Frank Moorhouse. She loved the work, she said, and intended to send it first to HarperCollins. HarperCollins! I was over the moon. I had this crash hot agent, and she liked the novel so much she’d gone for one of the biggest publishers in Australia.

Well. I waited and waited. Gradually, my excitement dwindled. After some months I rang the agent up. The head editor of HarperCollins, said the agent, hadn’t liked the anthropomorphism in the work — hell, it was one 70,000-word piece of anthropomorphism — so goodbye HarperCollins. But never mind, she’d look around for another perhaps smaller publisher.

More months went by. Eventually the agent rang me up: what genre did I reckon this book was, anyway? Yes, dear reader, it was a cross-genre work. Which, if you’re an unknown novelist in Australia is akin to setting fire to your chances of ever scoring a large traditional publisher. I understand their thinking. If you’re a publisher, you can afford to take a chance on a weird, off beat novel with a well-known writer. With a writer such as myself, known only for short stories, the risk was simply too great.

I don’t know when the agent gave up on the ms, I was never informed. I simply heard one day that she had retired. In my naivety I attempted to find another agent for the work. However, having had the big-name agent turned out to be the Kiss of Death for my finding another. ’Oh,’ each of them said to me, ‘if she couldn’t place it, I doubt I could. I’ll pass.’

I then attempted to place the ms myself with small Australian publishers. After all, I did have a track record of pleasing the public with short stories, and had been fortunate enough to win a number of awards with them. Every small publisher I approached with the ms seemed to think I was writing in this fairy tale style because I could write in no other, ignoring the fact that my published stories were, in fact, rather edgy and streetwise. Two of them managed to reject me on Christmas Eve, though I’d sent them the ms many many months before. My mouth fell open when I opened those emails, which occurred in two separate years. Rejecting a writer on Christmas Eve was, as well-known author Susan Geason remarked, like something out of Dickens.

So I came at last to the wild and woolly territory of indie publishing, which contains its own pitfalls as set out in my previous post . Currently, I’m working on the first set of proofs from CreateSpace – but more of that next week. (If you like horror stories, don’t forget to tune in.)  After that, it’s back to the Hill of Bewilderment for more agonising over categories – Amazon allows writers two.

Will it be worth it? Money wise, I doubt it very much. But it will be nice to finally hold a published copy of the book in my hands and to know it’s out there somewhere after all this time.

Writing. It’s a great life if you can last the distance.

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For years now, in summer I’ve slept in the downstairs bedroom of my 2-storey apartment with the back sliding door to the garden jammed open a few inches for coolness. Around 1 a.m. the perfume from the white ginger blossoms blooming near the steps would start to filter inside, and along with it would come beautifully cool, dew laden air. After the insane heat of the day, it was like being touched by the hand of God.

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

A few nights ago, as I was watching an episode of The Mentalist on TV, I was distracted by the strange behaviour of my younger cat Tim, who was sitting on top of the air cooler near the back door. He kept looking down at the floor between the cooler and the door, and back to me. As time went on, he grew more and more agitated. Suddenly, he leapt to his feet and puffed himself up. I thought it must be the tom from across the road, come to torment him: Ha ha, look at you, what a pansy, to have to be locked in at night!

But instead of rushing forward — Tim’s neutered, but he likes a good fight, I’ve got the vet bills to prove it — Tim came back to me.

He looked horrified.

Now this is a cat that has brought in six-foot-long pythons in the past, and once, a yellow-bellied black of about five feet, which my daughter, up on holidays from Melbourne, inadvertently took a shower with. Says I to myself, If Tim’s horrified, maybe I should be horrified too. I jumped to my feet to close the back door against the rabid dog, vengeful tom, whatever, but when the sliding door reached three inches, I hit an obstruction. The door wouldn’t close any further.

What was stopping it? I couldn’t see. The only light was behind me and the air cooler threw a shadow into the space between it and the back door, and my eyes aren’t very good, anyway. I peered over, still holding the door as shut as I could.

This isn't me! It's Tanya BennettPhoto by Manly Daily, n.d.

This isn’t me! It’s Tanya Bennett
Photo by Manly Daily, n.d.

The python raised his head and looked up at me, a sort of: What are you doing? look. Python? Correction, make that humungous python, one of the biggest I’d ever seen, already halfway into the room. He had come for the old cat who was sleeping on the corner of the bed near the back door. I grabbed both cats and flung them into the living room, snatched up my mobile phone, turned off the TV and fled. I closed the door that led from the study to the rest of the apartment, and jammed the space underneath with a length of wood held in place with two heavy pot plants.

Now I’ve lived with pythons before, always against my will, mind you. There was one in the ceiling of the house I moved into in the bush in 1978. But he was a gentleman, he had guidelines. He never came down to hunt mice and bush rats until after nine at night when I and the children were safely tucked up in bed. (With no car, no phone and no power, there was little to do in the bush once the sun went down.) This South Golden Beach python was singularly lacking in manners.

The wildlife people came out next day, but they couldn’t find him. Perhaps, they said, he went back out in the night through the back door I’d left open for him. Perhaps, perhaps … The back room leads to a space under the stairs crammed with things I’ve accumulated over the last 14 years, he could have been anywhere there among the boxes.

But they thought he’d gone, so I locked the back door into the garden and rang for a repairman for the back screen door. I also needed a screen door for my upstairs bedroom; I’d had no screen door upstairs for years – with a mosquito net over the bed, I’d never felt the need of one. Now I did! This place is subtropical, surrounded by lush vegetation and big trees, the python could easily get into my upstairs bedroom unless I kept the glass sliding door closed, which turns the room into an inferno in summer.

And there the situation stands. I come in here to work on the computer for an hour or so a day, and I’ve begun to clear out under the stairs, a job that was more that overdue. But I won’t let the cats in here until I’ve completely torn the place apart. I’ve lost cats to pythons before, it’s not a nice experience.

All up, the event produced some good outcomes: I get two much needed screen doors, and the back bedroom gets its first really good going-over in 14 years. I’m all set for whatever the Mayan calendar cares to throw at me.

Now it’s on to sorting through the 35 years of papers I’ve been carrying around, and the 14 years of useless objects I’ve collected while my head was stuck in a computer, writing.

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On the Rocks

Coming soon:

On the rocks

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To be honest, I’m pretty damaged; I guess I’ll recover eventually. For 10 days, eight of us, friends from way-back university days toured New Zealand, lurching from meal to meal (we’re old, yn’kow) across the country — watch for my e-book: NZ Picnic Spots I Have Known. After a while, I grew tired and tended to crouch in the back of the minivan, whimpering, when we made yet another stop. But I never complained. Not even when I slipped on the insane tiling of the Hundertwasser Toilets, now a major tourist attraction for Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nor did I complain about my experience in the Old Rotorua Bath House, now a museum, where I was underground inspecting the pipes that once brought in the healing waters when the information film showing unknown to me in the theatre above my head, reached the point where it depicted the 1896 earthquake, complete with sound effects, floor tremors and rocking furniture. (The patrons’ seats actually rock up and down, side-to-side.) There were no warning signs underground about the film. As my girlfriend and I fled the scene with our hair on end, I couldn’t help wondering how many tourists were lost to heart attacks while down there inspecting the pipes.

Yep, NZ is exciting. We dislodged retinas on the bungee jump and lost two of our number on the 8-Hour Redwood Epic Walk; but the Inflatable Rubber Hamster Wheel pleased all. Rotorua’s Perorming Sheep were, however, a disappointment. The corps de ballet lacked cohesion, the leading ewe kept falling off her points, and the costumes were uninspired. Top marks to the company, though, for enthusiasm, and the combined Southdown-Border Leicester choir was impressive.

Meanwhile, back in South Golden Beach the cats had devised various schemes to torment their conscientious keeper. The old cat was a challenge, as always — her profession, really. Worse was the young cat’s decision not to walk on the bedroom floor while I was away — some kind of cat oblation to the gods? Who knows. I’m told he leapt from shelves to ledges and pieces of furniture, never once touching the carpet, causing my friend to wonder what horror might be concealed somewhere on the floor of the bedroom she was sleeping in. (He’s the cat who brings in the snakes.) All in all, both cats had a good time, but I wonder about my friend, who never once told me later ‘what a lovely time’ she’d had.

Seriously, if you are in the North Island, a must-see is the Princes Gate Hotel in Rotorua — a beautiful, ornate timber 2-storey building built in 1897, which served a fabulous, 2-course Early Bird dinner for NZ$29.95, the Rotorua Museum (but give the underground pipes a miss unless you like to live dangerously), and the Waterfront Fish & Chip Restaurant (BYO) at Mangonui.

I rounded off my adventures with a 3-hour languish in the Gold Coast airport when the shuttle bus I’d booked failed to appear and I had to wait for another with no money left but the price of a cup of coffee. New Agers would say I attracted this experience with my fear of airports. As long as they don’t say it to my face, they’ll survive.

And so it’s back to my reclusive lifestyle. As the song says: ‘It’s very nice to go travelling, But it’s oh so nice to come home.’

If anyone out there reading this is intending to travel – have fun. I did.

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This
Christmas
I would
like to put
up a tree in my
heart, and instead
of hanging presents,
I would like to put the
names of all my friends.
Close friends and not so close
friends. The old friends, the new
friends. Those that I see every day
and the ones that I rarely see. The ones
that I always remember and the ones that
I sometimes forget. The ones that are always
there and the ones that seldom are. The friends of
difficult times and the ones of happy times. Friends
who, without meaning to, I have hurt, or without meaning
to have hurt me. Those that I know well and those I only know
by name. Those that owe me little and those that I owe so much.
My humble friends and my important friends. The names of all those
that have passed through my life no matter how fleetingly. A tree with
very deep roots and very long
and strong branches so that

their names may never be
plucked from my heart. So

that new names from all
over may join the existing ones. A tree with a very
pleasant shade so that our friendship may take a
moment of rest from the battles of life. May the
happy moments of Christmas brighten every

                             day of the New Year. My sincere wishes.

 

Love,

Danielle

I wish I knew who wrote and set up this Christmas tree. One of my Byron College Creative Writing students from 2001, Pat Kowal, who lives in the US sent it to me. She didn’t know who had written it, just found it somewhere on the net. I’m afraid it lost something along the way: Her version was every colour of the rainbow, and so pretty. But when I transferred it, the colour disappeared, and I have no idea how to fix that.  Even after 4 months at this, I’m still a Luddite!

Anyway, have a lovely Christmas everyone, and a safe and happy New Year. Let’s hope the Mayans were wrong 🙂

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Like the American Indian narrator of that fine book One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest says at the end of the novel, “I’ve been away a long time”.  Things have been happening here.

First, the landlord decided to replace the living room carpet in my little 2-storey broom cupboard 300 metres from the Pacific; the carpet had come with the building thirty-five years ago. Everyth piece of furniture in the room had to be emptied and the furniture carried outside. This was followed by an orgy of washing 12 years of dust off the furniture – writers aren’t renowned for their housekeeping. After the new carpet had been laid I discovered that the LL had chosen a carpet shade so dark it’s like living on a bitumen road. I have to stop myself from looking left and right when I cross the room): Perhaps it was on special.

Then my male cat bought in Snake No. 3 (it’s Spring over here in beautiful, downtown Australia). He likes to take them into the bathroom upstairs, figuring the shower recess is the best place for an interrogation and easy for me to hose down afterwards. BUT this one was larger than the previous two and he lost it halfway up the internal staircase. I couldn’t do the bucket trip I’d applied in the bathroom scenario on the previous two occasions and had to resort to waiting until the snake  reached the living room floor and corralling it with a straw In basket, held down by an antique flat iron; these were the only things to hand at the time. What to do next? That took some thinking. I managed to slide an old Barry Manilow vinyl record cover under the In basket and then transfer the whole lot to a giant garbage bag which I carried down to the canal. The captive looked none the worse for wear when I released him – standing well back and retrieving the various items afterwards. He made for the water and I made my way home with tips for writers the last thing on my mind.

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Shaune Lafferty Webb. Image supplied by Leslie Downie Photography, Noosaville. http://www.downiephotography.com.au

Back again, although it isn’t Sunday. Thought it might be interesting for writers out there struggling with writing their novel, memoirs, whatever, to learn of the experiences of two very different authors after their books were written.

This week’s author is Shaune Lafferty Webb, author of the speculative fiction novel Bus Stop on a  Strange Loop, published by Winterbourne Press. Next week – or maybe fortnight, depending on when he can bring himself to the task – it will be Chris Shaw, author and publisher of It’s All Relative, a collection of humourous short stories.  Both authors are based in Queensland, Australia.

And now to Shaune’s journey.

ONE WRITER’S JOURNEY

Five years ago, a change in circumstances offered me a rare opportunity: the chance to pursue an old dream. I wanted to be a writer … a writer with a published novel. I knew it would be a long road fraught with obstacles and blind turns. But I was prepared for the hard work; I could tackle the criticisms; and I’m nothing if not persistent. Finally, the writing was ‘finished’; I’d come to my first cross-road. Should I look for …

… an agent or a publisher?

A study of agents’ websites quickly led me to conclude that an agent was equally as difficult (impossible?) to snare as a publisher. Few invited new clients, certainly none I found encouraged writers of speculative fiction. So my course was set. I was off in search of a publisher.

Well, my quest degenerated into a frustrating and demoralising two-year process of submitting to every publisher I could find in Australia – and overseas – who was willing to look at unsolicited material. Sometimes I received a response; many times I did not. While the responses I did receive were polite and sometimes expressed interest in my work or complimented me on my writing style, my story was inevitably not what they were ’currently looking for’.

I’d hit another cross-road: what to do? If I were ever going to see my work published, it seemed the only direction left was Partnership Publishing, a phenomenally expensive gamble, which I did take but, for a number of reasons, elected not to pursue to completion. Was it worth the money? Not really. Did I learn anything from another editing experience? Yes: all constructive input refines writing skills. Would I do it again? No. However, a positive result of my investment was that I now had in my hands a professionally printed galley that I could send out for review.

Now there was a new obstacle in my path: I’d listened to my reviewers and refined my work accordingly, but I had already tried every publisher I could find. However, by a stroke of good fortune, Winterbourne Publishing had just opened its doors and it was a small publishing house geared strictly toward speculative fiction. You don’t find one of those every day. I submitted my manuscript yet again.

Not so fast. You thought I was going to say they accepted it, didn’t you? Afraid not. What they did offer me was the chance to work with them to revise it — one more time. After a brief fit of hysteria at the prospect of even more editing, I gratefully accepted the offer. Four months down the track my novel is out there for readers to buy from any on-line bookstore — if they happen to stumble across it, that is. Which leads us to …

… the marketing phase.

What can I say about marketing and self-promotion? Beyond expressing my sincere appreciation to my publisher who’s definitely given it all she’s got, not a lot that’s printable really. I have the website, but I am not a born blogger or social networker. I’m registered on Amazon as an author, but I don’t have a following or a bevy of enthusiasts ready and willing to promote my book. I’ve knocked on the doors of bookshops and been knocked back in return. Goodreads has brought my book to the public eye to some extent through their ‘give away’ program. But, as far as exposure goes, I haven’t even managed to scratch the surface.

I wouldn’t say that the writing was the easy part, but there is an element of satisfaction in putting images into words and in tying those words into a tale, that serves to offset the difficulty. Some writers might enjoy the hunt for a publisher or revel in the marketing scene. I’m not one of them. For me, there simply isn’t the slightest element of satisfaction in being repeatedly rejected or failing to succeed with a promotion.

Even a writer friend, who has managed to get her self-published books on the shelves of one of the major bookstores, has become dejected with the promotional phase of this business. Her book-signings have proven to be an expensive and unsuccessful approach. There might be a clever trick to marketing, but to date it continues to elude us both. So …

… was it worth it?

What were my expectations when I began this journey? To become famous and make a fortune with my writing? No, I wasn’t that unrealistic. To reach enough readers to make a living? Well, perhaps not a good one, but maybe if I were exceptionally lucky, I might bring in a little money. To attain just enough success to justify the selfishness of spending so much time writing? I’ll admit to that. Will it ever happen? No, I really don’t think so. Along every step of my journey, I doubted I’d ever really reach my goal.

Then what of those fine notions about being prepared to work hard and take criticism? Ah, those aspects were under my control. As was persistence. But it seems even persistence only gets you so far. Maybe there are just too many writers out there — a lot of hopefuls in a time and place where there simply isn’t enough hope to go around. Some make it by luck. Most don’t.

I was lucky. Although I won’t make it big, I did reach a few people who seem to like my work. I guess you could say that I’m stuck in a ditch part way down the road. But by the look of things, the odds are against me ever finding a way to crawl out.

 Shaune Lafferty Webb

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