The Final Pages, My Work is Done

 

The Readers' Copy

The Readers’ Copy

I have finally finished.

After years of writing, rewriting and editing, my book is typeset and will head off to the printers on Friday.

I feel such a strange mix of emotions. Relief, excitement, anticipation and, strangely, sadness.

I’ve put so much into the writing of this book that letting go, waiting to hand it over to the public is almost with a sense of loss. Everything I could do is done and now my characters and the world they inhabit will face the reality of bookshop shelves, bedside tables, coffee stains, dog-eared corners and critics. But isn’t that what I wanted? Absolutely!

To reach this final stage, I’ve travelled a funnel-shaped journey. It started with the big picture, a splashing of colour and movement in big, bold strokes. Each draft or version – there were 47 before it went to my agent, Sheila Drummond and then onto Beverley Cousins at Random House – was a process of refinement, of whittling down and narrowing my focus. By the time I reached the final pages, I was assessing the worth of an individual phrase or word, correcting punctuation with a brush of sable-like fineness. I know it’s a better book for the process and I am sure I have learnt much along the way, although I feel too close still to articulate it all.

But I will say this. Trust your gut instincts. If it feels wrong, whether it’s a word, an action, a whole passage or plot line, it probably is. Write it big and and ugly in the first draft. If you have words on a page you can begin to edit, without words you have nothing. Let yourself fall in love with your characters and then listen to what they are telling you, let them off your leash so they can roam. Listen to your editor, agent, publisher, they all want the best for your book. they won’t give advice that will make it worse or destroy the integrity of your work. But, if you really disagree and can justify why, then stick to your guns.

Next up for me is the publicity and that is going to something else again!

Hitting Your Mark - the first draft

Hitting Your Mark – the first draft

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Scissors, Paper Write

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I was chatting to my uber-talented friend, Felicity Coonan*, Art Director at Animal Logic, about my starting point for writing. ‘That’s just like a Production Designer,’ she commented.

I’d never really thought about it in that way, but I realised she was absolutely correct. As a writer/author, I am also my works’ production designer. I create the world my characters will brreathe life into and roam freely around. Just as Felicity created the world of the owls for her film, The Legend of the Guardians, The Owls of Ga’hoole.

I’d love to be able to say that I developed this technique myself, but I was introduced to this wonderful approach by the equally uber-talented Margo Lanagan**. Margo introduced me to the scrapbook one Sunday, sitting around a table in Petersham with a small group of writers ( I will write about the importance of being part of a writers group, but that’s a whole post in itself!).

On the table were magazines, art journals, papers, scissors, glue and the empty scrapbook I’d been asked to bring along by another uber-talented woman, Jan Cornall*** (are you getting a theme here?) I looked through Margo’s scrapbooks filled with images of seals, kelp forests, water and misty, mystical images. Although none of them ‘spoke’ to me, understandable as I wasn’t writing about selkies, the process did.

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Soon, I was cutting and pasting. Scouring magazines, papers, journals and the free postcard stand at cafe for an image that I related to. I found my characters lurking in Vanity Fair, Who Weekly, Marie Clair and the Sydney Morning herald. I then took it a step further and added fabric swatches, found scents, did numerous location scouts searching for the right house, the right cafe, the right apartment block and photographed them for my scrapbook. I created the world, a visual landscape for my chartacters to breathe life into.

 

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I started other scrapbooks of various images that appealed to me. These books, along with my notebooks and love of the Evernote App, have become as essential to my writing process as my pen/pencil and Moleskine exercise books.

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As I went further along the writing process, I would refer to my scrapbook often. Sometimes just to get the right feel, sometimes for a specific accessory, outfit, or hairstyle. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I’ll flick through it, and visiting the world might kickstart a thought, an idea.

Writing isn’t always about the physical act of writing. The thinking,  the visualisation of your world, your characters’ world, the walks when you let your thoughts roam, are all ‘writing’. It’s about finding what works and using it.

 

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*Felicity Coonan has worked on films as diverse Happy Feet, Three Hundred and most recently, The Great Gatsby

**Margo Lanagan is an Australian writer of YA and Short Stories and a multi-award winner. Her novel , Sea Hearts, was short-listed for this year’s Stella Prize and is about the selkies. It’s beautiful, as are all her novels.

***Jan Cornall is a fabulous mentor, writer, performance artist. Her website is – Writers’ Journey

Phobias, Foibles and Characters

I like to think of myself as a reasonably well-adjusted, rational, intelligent woman, with the usual quota of foibles and idiosyncrasies. But I do have three completely inexplicable and bizarre (except for one)  ‘phobias’.

Let’s start with the one that I believe is sensible and, given my seaside Sydney home, perfectly justified. Although, it has been known to induce fits of hysterical laughter amongst good friends and family.

Sharks.

Not to be trusted - ever

Yes. Sharks. You’re with me here aren’t you? Who isn’t concerned about the possibility of a shark gnawing on your quadriceps as you have a leisurely swim in Sydney Harbour or at one of our gorgeous beaches? Quite understandable.

I have a proven method of avoiding a shark singling me out when I’m swimming. (Proven, because I have not once had even the briefest glimpse of a shark in the many years I have been practising this method.) When I’m in the water, I make sure there are always several swimmers ahead of me. A shark bait buffer zone. This, combined with my ‘if the water’s too deep to see the sandy floor, I’m too far out strategy’, has proved fail-safe.

But sometimes, the terror of the shark is so great that I simply have to get out of the water. Even in an indoor swimming pool. Yes, that’s right. Laugh away. I have been so overcome by my fear of the shark that I have clambered out of an indoor pool. Of course I know there is not a Great White cruising in the deep end, niftily camouflaged by the black line on the bottom of the pool. That’s what a phobia does. Rational thought is immediately jettisoned.

Which pretty much sums up my second big fear. The open staircase. Or even worse, the open spiral staircase. I hate them. I will avoid them at all costs. My fear of slipping through the riser-less gap is profound. I have been known to freeze on them, my legs refusing to function. A wave of nausea and prickling fear can sweep over me and I just can’t move as I cling desperately to the railing.

Nightmare Scenario on Cockatoo Island

Going up is terrible. I can see the potentially lethal gap as I climb the staircase. And as for going down? It’s just as bad. I can’t see the chasm (four inch space), but I know it’s there just waiting to seize my ankle and pull me through.

I have absolutely no idea how, when, where, or why this fear made an appearance in my life. Maybe it’s because I’m so um…  height challenged (5′ isn’t so short is it?). Who knows? I sure don’t, but I’d put money on a traumatic past life experience.

Unlike my final phobia in the Big Three. That humble vegetable, the pea. Or as I affectionately refer to them, ‘little green balls of misery.’

so green, so round, so utterly revolting

I come from the generation where the evening meal was meat and three veggies and force-feeding was part of the daily ritual. You ate what was on your plate. Quietly, so dad could listen to the news on the wireless, and without complaint. My mum, a lovely woman,  simply could not believe that her four children disliked peas. And so she kept serving them and I found all kinds of ways to avoid eating them, like hiding them under my lamb chop bone. I can still feel the horror of the night I discovered that peas do not flush down the toilet, they just bob around in the bowl, accusingly.

To this day, I still will not, cannot eat peas. I dissect spring rolls, samosas, pies, anything that may contain a pea. I have left, untouched, bowls of fried rice, minestrone and any other dish with a surfeit of peas. And as for watching other people eating them? Blah.

So, when I’m thinking about characters that I’m developing, I remember that I am a well-adjusted, intelligent, rational woman with a couple of phobias and a penchant for ironing tea towels. We’re all a bit weird in our own way and so are my favourite characters.