THE WRITING PROCESS BLOG CHAIN
I’ve been tagged in a writer’s blog chain by author, singer and ABC radio host Mary-Lou Stephens to talk about my writing – what I do and how I do it. Mary-Lou is one of those wonderful people who manage to combine generosity and sharp-mindedness in the same person-package. In the olden days I think we called it wisdom and you’ll find plenty of that in Mary-Lou’s memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation. Find out more about Mary-Lou here. I’m chuffed she dobbed me into this blog chain.
I’ve been writing now for almost a decade. Really, a decade? Gosh, it doesn’t feel that long. My third novel, The Blue Mile, is about to be published and I still feel like a newbie at this game – despite having worked as a book editor for almost twenty years, too. You’d think I’d be an old hand at banging on about writing. But I’m not. I can discuss in intimate detail the structure and intention of a novel with its author. Other than that, I know as little or as much as anyone else.
Because it’s a personal thing, this writing business. There are as many ways to go about it, and as many reasons for doing it in the first place, as there are people-packages on earth. But it’s good to take stock and reconsider what I’m doing and why I’m doing it with this prompt from Mary-Lou, so here, without further ado, are my answers to the blog chain questions.
So . . . what am I working on now?
I’m working on the final chapters of a novel, a second draft of a story set in the old gold rush town of Hill End. Oh please, let it be everything I need it to be with these revisions I’m making now. It’s a bit of a departure from my first three novels, which use romance and humour as a way into some big moments in Australian history – bringing some lightness and brightness to the dusty corners of our social and political nation-ness. This next manuscript is much darker and knottier, in subject and in its history. And yet it’s also a romance – because I just can’t help writing about love. I hope I never stop writing about love.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
This is really a question for readers to decide, but I hope that playfulness and research are the things that make my work stand out from the crowd. I love traditional romance – stories about love and adventure and triumph and tragedy and characters shining their best selves at you like beacons of hope that you can be fabulous too – and I love to play with the rules of the genre and break some of them as well. But romance, in the mind of many readers, equals cliché, cliché, cliché, chicks’ stuff, cliché, cliché. I hope that my work turns that on its head, that readers – chicks and blokes alike – are surprised to be taken somewhere they thought was familiar but ends up showing them things about their world, their history, and themselves that they hadn’t considered before, or had perhaps forgotten.
Why do I write about what I do?
As I said, I am compelled to write about love. It’s a highly underrated subject, considering how important it is not only to human happiness but to our survival. It’s a subject that gets very little literary respect, but one I’m determined to keep on writing about – partly because I believe it’s a worthy subject and partly because I’m just damn contrary. Australian history also has a hold on me like nothing else. I’ve always been curious about being Australian, about never having quite fitted into the white-bread-still-call-England-Home dominant culture, and about our ability as a people to demonstrate the extremes of humanity – massive bigness of spirit and massive meanness too – while at the same time never giving into radicalism of any sort. Why would you when it’s almost always nearly beer o’clock? I’ll probably always write about Australia too, particularly the conflicting ideologies that plague us – there goes the career as a bestselling romance author. Oh well.
How does my writing process work?
First, characters start jabbering to me – they tend to emerge from reading, usually history, essays and narrative works, and idly trawling the old newspapers on the National Library’s Trove database. Suddenly I have a bunch of imaginary friends who need to speak and get their story out fairly urgently. I tend to bash out a first draft over a period of around six months, working around editing commitments (i.e. making actual money to support stupid writing compulsion). Then after a few more months’ cooking time, I read the manuscript again and, largely horrified by what I have written, I begin revisions, which will take a few more months or several. So it takes me about a year to come up with something readable – that then will be edited again, and again… until agent and publisher are happy.
My writing day usually falls into two parts: first, the period in which I must convince myself that I am not a useless waste of a brain (sometimes this takes up most of the day); the second, where I drill down and write, write, write, just let it take over me. I never stop researching, either – not until the manuscript is typeset into pages. I’m still scrabbling around in my world, checking facts and finding new ones, right up until the final whistle blows.
And now, last but not least, as part of this blog chain, it’s my turn to tag two writers for you to have a good squizz at. I’ve chosen two writers who mean a lot to me, not only for their talents and the uniqueness of their writerly quests, but because, just by being themselves, they have encouraged me.
Belinda is an award-winning author of three novels – Falling Woman, The River Baptists and her most recent Hannah and Emil. She’s also a teacher and one of the wittiest and large-brained people I know. We were publishing industry babies working at Random House together many years ago. As a writer, she walks a line between objectivity and love that makes me green. Check Belinda out here.
Beth is the author of the book that got me hooked (or re-hooked) on the magic of story. All those moons ago, as a baby editor, I was given the typeset pages of her collection of tales and reflections, How To Conceive of a Girl, to check through. Something beautiful happened and the rest is history, still fabulously unfolding. Beth’s new work, a collection of poetry called Vagabondage, will be published later this year. Check Beth out here.