The long and winding writing road…
Today is an exciting day in my writing life. It’s also a little bittersweet. All of my independently published novels – eleven of them – have been removed from sale in Australia and New Zealand to make way for beautiful new Brio Books editions from Booktopia.
My books will have a new look and the stories inside them now have greater potential to find new readers. It’s thoroughly wonderful! It’s also a good time to take a moment to reflect on the squiggly path my writing heart has taken to get here.
Seventeen years ago, when I dared myself to knuckle down and write that first novel – one that had been brewing since childhood – my writing future was a deliciously blank slate. Anything might have happened. I was a book editor at the time, and I knew that my chances of actually being published were slim, but I did it anyway. A year later, to my delight and surprise, I got that mythical first deal, and Black Diamonds was born. I was on my way!
Except that real life got in the way. Behind the scenes, I’d lost both my parents in quick succession, got divorced, and had such a massive anxiety reaction to all this grief that my writing brain didn’t work for a couple of years. This made Second Novel Syndrome a little tricky. Everything I wrote looked and felt like congealed porridge. Besides, I had some more important things to do, such as raising two kids and keeping on top of the bills.
But love eventually bloomed again with my newfound independence. I met a bloke called Deano (and if you’ve read the acknowledgements at the back of my books, you’ll know all about Deano), and for the first time in my life, at age 40, my writing was suddenly very cool and excellent to someone up-close and personal. There’s nothing like a little respect and admiration to get the writing juices flowing. Ahem. And in three brightly busy years, my next three books were born: This Red Earth, The Blue Mile and Paper Daisies. Woohoo! I had a career happening now.
Except that real life got in the way again. My Deano became direly ill with end-stage kidney failure – and it was nothing short of terrifying. By some crazy miracle, I was able to give him one of my own kidneys to bring him back to the land of the living, as one does. But while I was in the midst of preparing for the operation, and battling the beasts of my freshly unleashed anxiety disorder, my publisher at the time was losing interest in my work. It’s common cause and effect in the industry: if your sales don’t impress, your ‘career’ and your ‘courage’ mean zilch.
I spent a couple of months under the doona recovering from those swings and roundabouts, wondering why I wanted to write at all. I can laugh now, but I was a little bit direly ill myself, with feelings of hopelessness. I’d thought I’d wasted my time, and everyone else’s. But then, under that doona, something magical happened: my grandmother came to me in what I can only describe as a brief but powerful waking dream, reminding me where I’d come from: that my storytelling blood runs deep and that I am made of stronger stuff than I’ll ever know.
Wild Chicory poured out of me then, a homage to my grandmother and to storytelling itself, and, magic indeed, that little book has changed my writing life more than any other. It got some cracklingly nice reviews, to be sure. But it also introduced me to small-press publishing, eventually leading me to take the leap and begin publishing my work myself. In the following five years, Jewel Sea, Lady Bird & The Fox, Sunshine, Walking, Her Last Words and The Truth & Addy Loest made their way into the world.
I’d thought that any chance of returning to traditional publishing was over for me – that ship had sailed. But I was content with that. The experience of having to go it alone brought me closer to those who’ve nourished my writing in ways I’ll never be able to repay: my agent, Selwa Anthony, my editor for six books, Alexandra Nahlous, and the many friends who’ve encouraged me, you’ve all kept my writing life afloat. More than anything else, those readers who’d drop me a line to ask when the next book was coming out, or to say they’d enjoyed the current one, or just to say hi, have sustained me through all kinds of doubts and challenges.
But then the wheels of fortune began to turn again. First, the lovely people at Bolinda Publishing acquired the audio rights to all of my independently published books. I’m still pinching myself that they did that, and still check online now again to make sure I didn’t dream it.
And now, this new adventure with Brio Books is about to unfold. My new publisher, David Henley, is an actual dream to work with. I don’t know if I’ve just grown into myself as a writer or if David is the Best Publisher in the World, but I feel like I’ve come home. The publishing director, Franscois McHardy, is also such a genuine booklover, dedicated to growing Australian authors, I’ve wondered if I’ve been teleported to a new Book Planet.
How did this happen? It would be neat and trite to say that perseverance pays off eventually. It doesn’t always. But the one thing I’ve learned from my squiggly path is that doing what you love, writing the stories you think are important in some way, is never the wrong thing to do. If these new opportunities weren’t opening up for me now, I’d still have eleven books, good friends and many beautiful readers to show for it. I’d still have learned more about writing and thinking than I would have had I not taken a punt on myself. Moral of the story: take that punt on yourself and take it often.
Who knows what the future will bring? Publishing, on the business side of things, is always fancy gambling. But whatever happens, more writing from me is on the way. Always. For however long this brain lasts. For however long my heart charges at a new tale to tell.
Brio editions of all my books will be available from Booktopia, 12 October 2021, and from all good bookstores.
Photo: Jean Arthur, 1936