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This morning, I met with Matt Richell, the Sales & Marketing Director from Hodder and Headline (Hachette) while he was in Perth for a few days. We discussed books and publishing in general, and of course, my novel.

It sometimes feels that Perth is quite isolated form the publishing world, given that most of the major publishers, literary agents, writers’ festivals etc are based on the East Coast of Australia, although I do wonder if that sense of isolation is common to all writers. While I enjoy the solitary nature of writing, I also love to talk about books, and am really excited to be given access to the publishing world, full of people who are as passionate about stories and writing as I am.

Matt did give me one piece of advice (well, he gave me lots of advice but this piece stuck): celebrate each stage of the process. And I do.

When I started writing ‘Fractured’, the idea of it ever being published was something that seemed so distant and unlikely. Now I am actually going through the process of structural edits, copy edits, proofs, cover design…all those things are real and no longer mysterious processes. I still feel incredibly privileged to have a team of professionals working on the book with me and I’m really excited to see what the next few months hold as publication gets closer.

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I recently read The Good Father by Noah Hawley, a book that attracted me because of its focus on parenting and personality development.  The eponymous good father, Dr Paul Allen, is a rheumatologist whose son, Daniel, is accused of murdering a presidential candidate. As a child, Daniel’s parents divorced, and his father moved to another city and started another family: his presence in Daniel’s life was largely distant and sporadic. The novel deals with how this father tries to defend his son and find out the truth about what happened, while he also deals with his own guilt and sense of responsibility for the trajectory Daniel’s life has taken.

Like other books before it, perhaps most obviously ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver, this premise brings the nature-nurture debate to light: are our characters born or made? How important is parenting when it comes to personality development, particularly if that personality is deemed to be disordered, or even criminal? Is a very common occurrence, such as parental separation, enough to make someone commit a crime when thousands of other people who experience the same event do not become criminals? These are the questions that the book wrestles with.

I find in my own work as a psychiatrist that there is an emphasis on motherhood and parenting. There are good reasons for this: mothers are usually the primary caregivers and attachment figures for children, and there is good evidence that maternal mental health has a profound effect on a child’s mental health and security. When a child is taken to see me, it is usually the mother who brings the child along, while the father is often at work. However, I always try to meet the father too as whatever their role, they are a huge part of a child’s life too. When I talk with young people, they talk about their fathers as much as they talk about their mothers, and sometimes it is the fact that fathers aren’t as present as they could be that preoccupies young people – and this is one of the central issues of Hawley’s The Good Father.

While reading the book, I found myself wondering what I would do – as a mother – in this situation. I wondered whether men and women, fathers and mothers, deal with stress and grief differently. We traditionally expect men to externalise their emotions, to need to do something, whereas women tend to internalise more, although these stereotypes are not necessarily true. This novel is interesting because it does focus on the role and emotions of a father: Daniel’s mother plays only a very small role in the book. While Dr Allen does experience many strong emotions, including guilt and denial, he also uses his usual coping mechanisms of intellectualisation and logic – useful in his medical role – to avoid dealing with his true emotional journey as he tries to find out what happened to his son. This is mirrored for the reader by some short chapters which are quite factual with little emotional content. We do however start to see more of the emotional impact on Dr Allen as he has to accept that there is a limit to what he can control, and it is at this point that the book really captured me and was genuinely moving.

I have written before about Donald Winnicot’s concept of the ‘good enough mother‘, a well known concept in psychology. Mothers do not have to perfect, they just have to be good enough at giving their child what he needs, and recognising that this changes over time. At some point, a mother has to stand back and allow their child to become independent, make choices, and learn from the consequences of them. I wonder if this theory is what Hawley had in mind when he chose to call his book The Good Father. Ultimately, Dr Allen is not so much concerned with whether he has been good enough, but in a much more black and white way, whether is he a good father. By inference, if he is not good, then he must have been bad. In the same way, Daniel must be either good or bad. This is what keeps the reader interested: will this father be able to reconcile with himself and accept doubt and shades of grey? Will we find out the truth about whether his son was good or bad? Or is he, like most people, somewhere in between?

You can find out more about the author at http://www.noahhawley.com

*This book was an Advance Reading Copy provided by Random House/DoubleDay (US publisher). The book is published in Australia by Hodder & Stoughton

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…the contract for my first novel to be published!

I’ve been very quiet here recently, that’s because there’s been a lot going on behind the scenes. I’m thrilled to announce at last that my novel (provisionally titled ‘That Day’, but it may well change) will be published by Hachette Australia in early 2013.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that Hachette Australia wanted to make an offer, and the discussions around accepting that offer were taking place between myself, the publisher, and my agent while I was at — of all places — the zoo! So, in between the noises of lions roaring (literally – they were being fed or something) and monkeys hooting, I verbally accepted the offer and in the last couple of weeks the contract was drawn up and signed.

I’m very excited, even about the prospect of working on the novel again with professional editors, and seeing every stage of the process that turns a manuscript into a real book on the shelves. I’m also anxious about the fact that it is really happening, and that people will read and have an opinion on my novel. 2013 seems like a long way away, but I’m sure the time will go very quickly and I’ll be very busy.

For the moment though, I’m just enjoying the champagne…

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NaNoWriMo – I’m doing it!

I have decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month)after weeks of procrastinating about it (which of course is time that I should have been writing). I may be ‘cheating’ a little as I’m already about 20000 words into my second novel, and NaNoWriMo is about writing a 50000 word novel from scratch in a month.I’m not going to start a new one, just try and add 50000 words, which would bring me pretty close to the end of the first draft of this novel. My original aim was to have the first draft done by Christmas – and this is a way that I can do it.

It will be hard with work and children to fit in, but I’ll give it a go. I am still waiting for news about my first novel, and getting stuck into the second novel is a good way to distract myself from the waiting and jumping every time the phone rings.
And if I don’t manage 50000 words in November…it doesn’t matter. Even to get half of that would be brilliant.

Good luck to any others taking part!

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I am thrilled to say that today, I signed a contract with a literary agent: I am now represented by Benython Oldfield of Zeitgeist Media group. I was lucky enough to meet Benython when I attended the Hachette/QWC manuscript development programme in November last year, and sent him my completed manuscript a couple of months ago. Benython also represents two of my favourite Australian writers at the moment: Craig Silvey (of Jasper Jones fame) and Benjamin Law (The Family Law) so I’m in good company.

I think more than anything, it’s great to know that an industry professional sees enough merit in my work to think that it can be published. I must admit that I had a glass or two of champagne to celebrate…

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I have been quiet on this blog recently, and that is because I have been trying to finish my novel. When I attended the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre manuscript development programme in November last year (see here for my post about this), I was lucky enough to be given feedback on the 2nd draft of my novel by a publisher. A  literary agent and successful author also saw the first 50 pages of my book and gave me some more excellent feedback.

Since that programme, I have  been trying to work through the whole manuscript again to  a level where I feel happy to resubmit it. It has been difficult to find the time,  but in the last couple of months I have written early in the morning, and in the evening in an effort to get this done. It’s not really a chore: I love the time I spend writing, and I love the feeling that each line I edit improves my manuscript.

About ten minutes ago, I wrote ‘The End’ on this third draft. A great feeling, but one that leaves me feeling a bit uneasy and uncomfortable. As a writer, when  do you know when to stop? I feel that I could keep redrafting this again and again ad infinitum, but I also know that I am getting to the point where I am losing objectivity. I know the story so well, and the characters, that I am filling in the blanks that may or may not be on the page. I find it hard to read it as a reader would, because I know what I’m trying to say.

I am also impatient. I started this book almost two years ago, when my first child was a few months old: she is two next week. I want to put it out there, to take the risk and hope that I can secure an agent and publisher for it. But I know as a writer that it’s important to wait, to put it away for a while, then look again. To resist firing off an email, attaching the document and pressing ‘send’. You don’t get multiple attempts at submitting your manuscript. I want to make the most of this opportunity.

So I will not press ‘send’ yet. I will print it out again, and I will wait a few days and read it again from the beginning. There are 20000 new words in this draft, so I need to read it again and see if they are meant to stay. Then I will send it to two trusted readers and wait for their feedback. And then I will go through it all again, and by July, I will attach the document to an email and I will send it out there.

I would love to hear from other writers and how they knew that it was finally good enough to call ‘finished’…

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I got back yesterday from the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program which was held in Brisbane. It was a very intense experience, and one of my fellow retreaters, Rebecca Freeborn, has written a post on her blog about the details.

One of the main highlights of the program for me was the opportunity to have time with publisher Vanessa Radnidge from Hachette Australia, who had read my full manuscript. Getting feedback from someone in the industry was absolutely fantastic. I also had feedback from two other industry professionals who had read the first 50 pages of my manuscript: author Kim Wilkins, and literary agent Benython Oldfield from Zeitgeist Media Group.

One theme that came up for me was that the subject matter of my novel may be too difficult to get published as it is confronting and sad. That’s not to say it’s impossible of course, but it may be a challenge. In one discussion, I was asked to think about potentially changing  my story so that there is a different outcome for one of characters which would make the novel have a happier ending. This is something I’ve thought long and hard about. It would change much of the second half of my novel, which in a selfish way means a lot more work. I also worry that in doing so, I collude with society in avoiding talking about the potential tragedies of mental illness.

However, if it makes my work more palatable to publishers, is it worth it if it allows me to bring up the issues of perinatal mental health issues and start a conversation about them? It has certainly given me something to think about. For now, I will continue editing the first half and backstory of my novel and let my subconscious work through it.

The other highlight for me was meeting six other writers at the same stage of their careers as me, and hearing readings from each of their work. While we are all writing quite different manuscripts, I was amazed by the quality of their work, and was proud to be sitting amongst them. It gave me a real sense of validation as an emerging writer. So thanks to Rebecca, Rebekah, Charlotte, Heather, Alison and Darryl (as well as, of course, Queensland Writers Centre, Hachette, and the individuals who gave up their time to work with us.)

The challenge now is to keep that momentum and inspiration going. I have given myself an absolute deadline of 6 months to have the manuscript redrafted and polished, ready to resubmit. And there’s nothing like a deadline to make me work.

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