How to write a novel…

When people ask me what I do, I’m slightly confounded; I have a little think before I decide how best to answer. Sometimes I say I’m a ‘stay at home mum’. Sometimes I say I’m a teacher. I used to assign myself to the Those Who Can’t DO, Teach Club but then I realised that I never even gave myself a chance to DO what I love. I have the utmost respect for educators; teaching is a truly noble calling. I don’t truly believe in the Those Who Can’t DO, Teach Club because good teachers need to be able to DO just about everything. But the truth is, I love to write. I enjoy my day job well enough: I’m fulfilled by the sense of altruism and the relationships forged, but writing is my calling; a less noble pursuit but worthwhile nonetheless. So I am joining a new club and following in the footsteps of a long line of women writers who worked as governesses to pay the bills!

Won’t teach any more if I can help it; don’t like it; and if I can get writing enough can do much better… –Louisa May Alcott 1859

And 28 years later…

People usually ask, ‘How much have you made?’ I am contented with a hundred thousand and find my best success in the comfort my family enjoy; also a naughty satisfaction in proving that it was better not to ‘stick to teaching’ as advised, but to write. – Louisa May Alcott 1887

I hope that in 28 years time I’ll be able to say something similar! So, this is a blog to document my journey from emerging writer to published author; I’m only just beginning, but I know where I’m headed.

When I left high school in 1999, I did what any wannabe writer would do: I began an Arts degree, majoring in English and Fine Arts. I chose the most prestigious and aesthetically pleasing university in the state, a campus most befitting the narrative I’d already imposed on my life. I imagined animated discussions amongst the plane trees and intense new friendships with my own kind. Basically, I was planning a type of three year long literary salon; a nineteenth century one with the requisite debauchery and romantic liaisons.But I was shy and fairly neurotic so the great plan was a fiction in the beginning and most definitely unrealised by the end of my years in those lofty halls. Midway through, I gave myself a sabbatical of sorts; disillusioned by my university experience, I did the writerly thing: I planned my own bildungsroman. I up and left Perth and headed for Melbourne on a solo adventure. I lived in a backpackers’ hostel for a time; I experimented; I met the father of my two children. I could say that my plan was realised this time, but it wouldn’t be true: I didn’t grow up; I was more lost than ever. So when I returned, I picked up where I had left off and completed my degree half-heartedly. I graduated and spent a year feeling jaded and miserable, unable to find gainful employment. I tried to access the then cliquey Perth arts scene by volunteering at festivals, but I was terrified by the big personalities and lacking the experience and confidence to make any ground. I finally succumbed to the Arts graduate stereotype- I was unemployed and about to start a Graduate Diploma of Education.

Midway through my graduate degree, aged 24 years, my partner and I discovered I was pregnant. My previous life plans hadn’t entirely worked out, so I decided to undertake the biggest of unplanned endeavours: motherhood. Oh that I could bottle the learning and acquisition of self-knowledge from those early years with my firstborn!

A number of discrete events coalesced to become the impetus for my renewed desire to write. I watched a friend endure difficult times and depression until she made a decision: she would work hard to establish the business she had been dreaming about and she WOULD do it- no question about it. Sheer hard work, determination and self-belief transformed her life. I was led by her example when I found myself in a difficult space; after month upon month of trying to conceive a much desired second child, I gave up and decided that I would channel those energies into a novel. I’d always known what my first novel would be about- it feels like that first kernel has been with me my whole lifetime- so it was not hard to get started. Then, of course, I fell pregnant! I shelved the novel and didn’t return to it until my second child was one year old! I began writing a ‘Mummy Blog’ at around the time that I conceived so that I could flex my prose muscle more often. That blog has become a photo journal of sorts; a record of my life with my two sons; a celebration of their growth and development. This new blog is a leap of faith; I need to believe that my novels will be published; that I will require a proper, professional writer’s blog.

So, back to the inspiration…The momentum grew when I attended a morning tea with author, Kate Morton, and I left feeling alternately encouraged and devastated. Here she was, a woman living the life I had imagined for myself; a woman who read Enid Blyton as a girl, a true bibiophile; a woman who was just an ordinary Arts graduate before she wrote a book. During the morning tea, she shared an epiphany that she’d had before she wrote her first novel: authors are just ordinary people who happen to write (and who are published of course!). She also mentioned that she writes about the things she loves; mysteries, the bearing of the past upon the present, fairytales… I’m pretty sure that we share a similar sensibility…she also has two sons…like me… but, you know…I don’t want to sound all single white female! Kate was gracious and friendly when I told her that I was writing my first novel. I walked away in quite a state; I was determined that I would finish the manuscript.

In December 2010 I began writing my first novel, The Quickening, and I completed a chapter every month for a year. I completed the first draft in December 2011 and it took six months to redraft. I have since submitted the manuscript to five Australian agents. I’ve received four rejection emails. Ouch. It really hurts as much as I thought it would.

Onwards and upwards of course! I’ve entered the 2012 TAG Hungerford Award and the 2012 Unpublished Manuscript Award. I will begin submitting directly to publishers in February if I have no luck in the aforementioned competitions.

I needed a little bit of time out from the novel so I wrote a short story and entered the Margaret River Short Story Competition 2013. I’m starting to take notes for my second novel and maybe, once I’ve finished a draft, I’ll be able to summon the courage to tell people that I AM A WRITER!

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