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Archive for October, 2010

I am about a third of the way through a detailed, objective and harsh read through of my manuscript. With less than 4 weeks until the Hachette/QWC retreat starts, I really want to not only be very familiar with the draft that I submitted to them, but also have a clear idea of what I think needs to change for my next rewrite. It will be interesting to see whether they agree or if I am on a completely different planet. And believe me, there is a lot that I think needs to change.

As I reached for my rainbow of highlighters, my red and black pens, my notebook and my manuscript, I started to feel what can only be described as despair. The novel as it stands just isn’t working. My plot is confused; my timeline is all wrong with temporal impossibilities; and my characters still need so much work. My old friend self-doubt started to creep into my mind.

Virginia Woolf talked about ‘the angel in the house’ to describe her self doubt that crept onto her shoulder and into her pages, and this is certainly something I can relate to. She was talking more about being a female writer at a time when there were certain expectations of women and their place in the house, and in society, but the concept is a useful one. This is how she dealt with it:

“Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.”

I have no inkpot, so instead I metaphorically threw my red biro at her and told myself to get over it and just keep going with my read through, making notes and allowing my subconscious to fix the problems. And then, all of a sudden, I knew what I must do, and that angel disappeared. My excitement and enthusiasm returned. Sure, I have created a lot more work for myself as I have to move around some major scenes and write a few new ones. But I know that it will make my manuscript better, tighter, and one step closer to the finished novel that I know is hiding in there.

Writing – like parenting – creates a huge range of emotions. In one moment, it can all seem too much, and then in the next, you remember why you make the choice to write, and the satisfaction and joy it brings you. I remind myself that I don’t HAVE to write. I could just put the manuscript away and watch daytime television, or read, or sleep. But most days I can’t wait to have an hour to lose myself in writing, and I know that without it, something would be missing.

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The 2010 Man Booker prize has just been awarded to Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question. I haven’t read it yet, though I did download the first chapter or so on my Kindle and enjoyed it. It has a great beginning and a very humorous and distinctive ‘voice’. I certainly intend on reading it once I get through the pile I already have waiting to read, whenever that is!

Literary awards are a funny thing. I have a confession to make: I still haven’t managed to get past the first few chapters of last year’s winner, Hilary Mantell’s Wolf Hall. It’s not for lack of trying.

I usually use literary prize longlists and shortlists to give me some ideas about what to read, because I read a lot so constantly need new material. To get to the stage of being listed for a prize such as the Man Booker, the book must have merit. When a shortlist is released, I will read the blurbs and reviews and pick some which sound like they may be of interest to me. It is rare that I don’t finish a book – I like to see things through to the end.

However, Wolf Hall is different. I bought it last year after it won and tried to read it, but gave up after a few chapters. I then tried again a few months later, but the same thing happened. And two weeks ago, I picked it up again and decided to see it through. I know that I should like it: it’s set around the court of Henry VIII, and I am a big fan of The Tudors which introduced me to the seedy world of his monarchy in a way that school history lessons never did. It’s had universal acclaim, it’s won the Man Booker prize.

I can appreciate that it’s written well, in a very original voice. It’s a beautifully thick book, and usually I can’t wait to start books that I know will invite me into their pages for weeks to come. But it failed to engage me. If I am honest, it bored me. I didn’t feel that it had enough narrative interest to keep me struggling though the politics and various Thomases that appear. And so, after about 1/3 of the book, I gave up again, for the third and final time. I’ve heard that life is too short to drink bad wine (and I completely agree!); I say that life is too short to read “bad” books.

And of course, it’s not a “bad” book: it’s just a book that isn’t to my taste, and that’s the thing about art. It’s subjective, and you don’t have to like – or pretend to like – something that you don’t, although I think it’s fashionable to do so. I really wanted to read it, and I wanted to like it, but just couldn’t.

But congratulations to Howard Jacobson. He must be feeling absolutely amazing today. And his publishers must also be over the moon…

 

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I am on the third draft of my novel manuscript now, and this is the draft that I submitted to the Hachette/QWC program, the version that they will give me feedback on.

When I was writing the first draft, I allowed myself to write in an uninhibited fashion, happily telling myself that the most important thing was to get something down on paper and get to the end of the manuscript. Then, I thought, I can fix it all up later! Easy! Unfortunately it is now ‘later’, and having to fix it is a far bigger job than I anticipated.

For my second draft, I simply tried to rearrange my scenes from the chronological order in which I had written them, to one which made more sense, or increased tension, or somehow made the structure more interesting. I also discarded huge chunks of writing which I had thought at the time were pretty good, but on a second reading were pretty bad. These were things like paragraphs of explanation or details about backstory that really didn’t need to be spelled out for the reader. Now, I thought, I simply have to go through each scene and tidy it up and I’m done!

Hmmm. Not quite. I went through notes from the Year of the Novel course that I did at QWC where Kim Wilkins gave us some excellent editing tips, and I also read Browne & King’s Self Editing for Fiction Writers. It started to look better, but as I read more and more of my manuscript, I saw more and more issues. Because of timing issues and life getting in the way, this was the draft that I submitted to Hachette, and luckily I was still chosen.

I don’t want to change anything from this draft at this point until I get feedback from them, but I am trying to organise myself before then. I have just completed a summary of my scenes as they stand, with characters, viewpoints, settings etc, so at least I have an overview of the manuscript and an easy reference tool to find specific scenes/characters etc. In doing this, though, I have cringed at the amount of errors, continuity issues, typos and underdeveloped aspects that are through this draft. ‘They’ say that you should put your manuscript away for weeks or months before working on the next draft, and I completely agree – I can’t believe that I didn’t pick up on all these issues until now, when looking at it with fresh eyes. I also have two friends reading my manuscript (one writer, one avid reader) for their opinions, and I am making a list of things to do before the retreat which includes items to research (especially for my police and court scenes), nailing my timeline (which at the moment is more like science fiction!), and reading more books like mine to see how to handle backstory and flashbacks. And none of that allows me to touch the manuscript with anything other than a highlighter, red pen and notebook at this stage. Typer no typing! (OK, my 16 month old has been watching too much Dora…)

My hope is that I will then be in a position to take on board everything that I can at the Hachette/QWC retreat and be ready for a major edit in December, just before my second baby arrives in January 2011! I’m exhausted just thinking about it…

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I am thrilled to announce that my novel manuscript has been selected for the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre’s manuscript development program! Last week I was out weeding the garden when I heard my phone ring. I ran inside to answer it, and was told that I was one of 8 to be selected for the program. I am very excited and proud! I was ecstatic just to be longlisted, and honestly didn’t think I would get to this point – although I secretly hoped that I would.

This means that I spend a week in Brisbane with editors/publishers from Hachette who will give me feedback on ways to improve my manuscript, along with booksellers, literary agents and authors so that we can learn more about the publishing industry and how it works. The competition stresses that this is no guarantee that Hachette will publish my finished book – but just to have the opportunity to work with them is amazing. And who knows where it will lead.

One of the most exciting things about it is the validation that I have not been wasting my time writing. I never really thought of it as a waste of time, as it was something that I needed to do and that gave me enormous satisfaction in those times when A was asleep. It was my time, a time when I could switch off from the stresses of being a new mother and enter that strange creative, writerly world. To have a publisher believe that my work shows merit and promise is an extra bonus.

I will be attending the retreat when I am about 33 weeks pregnant so I hope that this little one doesn’t decide to make too early an appearance! It will be harder to find the time to write when I have two little ones, but I know that I will make the time. Hachette allow us to submit our finished manuscripts after the retreat to be considered for publication, and I am not going to miss an opportunity like that.

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