I just had to steal that caption from Gary Kemble’s article in the March edition of Writing Queensland, because (she says, trying to keep the excited quiver out of her voice) he is talking about me. Well, my books. Or, to be more precise, my soon-to-published novel Dust and the WIP.
Avoiding ‘Second-Novel Syndrome’ looks at how authors cope with the pressure of writing numero duo after their first novel has hit the shelves.
I must have snuck in on a technicality because my first novel doesn’t hit the bookshelves till July, but who cares? Not me. I am delighted to be gracing the pages of QWC’s flagship publication, Writing Queensland, and in such fine company too.
There I am on page six, sandwiched in between the charming Nick Earls, best-selling author of is-it-fourteen-novels-now, Nick?, Will Elliott, winner of the inaugural ABC Fiction Prize, Clarion South graduate Deborah Kalin, and my very favourite vampire writer, Jason Nahrung.
To read the full article, grab your latest copy of WQ, or if you don’t have one, click on the Qld Writers Centre link on the right and subscribe. QWC is da bomb, and you get a monthly WQ free as part of your membership. To read the full text of my interview with Gary Kemble, simply scroll down…
Q. Can you tell me a bit about the process of writing Dust and now The Lonely Dead? Was there any overlap between the two — or did you start writing The Lonely Dead after finishing Dust?
I started writing Dust when I still had a pre-schooler at home, chucking balls at the back of my head to get my attention. It was written in fits and bursts, sometimes months apart, over two or three years, and it showed. The first draft was short-listed for the Varuna Manuscript Development Awards, but it really could have done without those early back-of-skull distractions.
A harsh but fair manuscript appraisal from Driftwood slapped some sense into me and I decided to rewrite it from scratch as part of a Master of Arts in Youth Writing at QUT. I simultaneously did Year of the Novel with Veny Armanno and the combination taught me everything I should have known, but didn’t, about writing that first novel.
It took me six months of solid work to rewrite Dust. Finishing it was hard – I’m like Tank the penguin in Surf’s Up, happy to hole up in my room, endlessly polishing my ladies. But I’d given myself a 12-month deadline to finish my Masters, so I forced myself to down tools and submit. Then I had six weeks off and wrote nothing more complex than a grocery list.
I officially started writing The Lonely Dead on 19 May 2008, but I had already written a couple of character sketches a year or so earlier, to fill in one of those ghastly hiatuses where you are waiting to hear something, from someone, about your first novel. So the first 10,000 words almost wrote themselves.
The Lonely Dead is like a smart younger sister – watching and listening and taking in all the mistakes of the first-born. It thinks it knows the pitfalls to avoid, but being the willful child of a distracted mother, it will, no doubt, find new and exciting mistakes to make and call its own.
Q. Was there any pressure from any quarters to write something more similar to Dust, to ‘establish your name’ with readers?
No. Leonie Tyle’s Woolshed Press, an Imprint of Random House Australia, is publishing Dust. Leonie did ask if I had plans for any other YA novels, and I do, but I want to finish The Lonely Dead first. She’s happy with that and told me to put as much heart into it as I did with Dust. She also says RHA is excited that my next novel is adult and crime, so everyone seems happy with where I’m heading.
Q. At what point did you find a publisher for Dust? Had you already started work on The Lonely Dead?
I had specifically asked for Leonie to examine my Masters because she is one of the country’s most respected publishers of young adult fiction and I wanted her to read every word of my manuscript and tell me what she thought of it. Luckily, she loved it.
I enrolled in Year of the Edit with Kim Wilkins to help polish the final draft that went to RHA in September last year. By the time Dust made it through their Acquisitions process in October, I was almost 20,000 words into The Lonely Dead.
Q. How did finding a home for Dust affect your writing, if at all? Did you gain confidence from the sale, or did you feel like the pressure was on?
I was so excited about Dust, I couldn’t concentrate on The Lonely Dead at all. It was weeks before I got back to writing my second novel, and even now, there are ongoing distractions – revisions, line edits, blurbs, bios, marketing requirements, interviews with Writing Queensland, lol. But hey, I’m not complaining, this is the dream, the goal, what I’ve been working towards for the last few years. It’s all good.
Getting a publisher was important for me. I was too vain for vanity publishing and wanted the affirmation of a commercial publisher believing in my work enough to invest in it. So yes, the sale gave me confidence in my writing. Also, the fact that I was 20,000 words into The Lonely Dead, meant I was spared the anxiety of deciding what to do next.
Q. The Lonely Dead sounds like a very different book to Dust — different target audience and presumably very different content. Was this a conscious decision — to get away from Dust and so avoid the risk of repeating yourself?
I’m not sure that what I write is a conscious decision. I started Dust without a clear vision of where I was going, but with a firm conviction that I had to set my story in that time and place. Adults will enjoy it for the humour and authenticity of the 1970s setting, but Dust is a young adult novel because it is so clearly in the voice of an adolescent – a cracker of a kid, with a great take on the world.
The Lonely Dead on the other hand is adult, crime and contemporary. The main characters and situation came to me out of nowhere: one dead, one guarding a secret, one determined to discover the truth. But there can be no secrets in a murder investigation, so the conflict was there from the beginning.
This time round I get to play with multiple viewpoints, which is wonderfully challenging after writing a first-person narrative. I also get to play with ideas, words and language that appeal to grown-ups and that’s fun too.
I can’t see a problem with tackling something so very different in my second novel. The British writer Kate Atkinson is an inspiration in that sense. Her debut novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. She then went on to write a string of Jackson Brodie crime bestsellers. And wouldn’t we all love to do that!