Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Next step - career issues for a working writer.

This is the shake up. I have been wondering what the 'next step' is for me. I have been lucky enough to take my writing up a notch every few years. Slow and steady with the intention of winning the marathon rather than the sprint.

I remember a moment when I was almost over the line with publishers, getting my books read by the editors but not quite accepted. Lovely personal rejection letters. Then for some reason I suddenly realised it was fine to write a book that people actually wanted to read. Till then I had been working towards an idea of perfection in craft. I was working on character and flow and sentences. I loved so many difficult but beautiful books. I was working towards making the perfect difficult book.  But it is just as hard to write a good novel that no one wants to read as it is to write a good novel that people want to read.

So I changed.  I focussed on the memoir. I focussed on sex. I broke through that wall.  I feel now like I have hit another wall.  Not with my writing, because I still keep steadily learning new things and moving from project to project. My books are well reviewed but not very financially successful. A few hundred copies is not going to delight my publisher and to appeal to a wider audience I don't have to dumb it down, I just have to find a subject that resonates on a universal level, something that is going to be easier to hook people with.  I need to treat this game like fly fishing. I have all the right technique, I have even learned how to craft a well-structured book (although this was hard at first). Now I need to change my bait. I need to find topics that are going to hit a cultural nerve. I can still write my difficult beautiful things - or try to, but now I need to step up. I need to write about subjects that people are going to want to read. I need to find those universal themes of interest and take my characters to those subjects and rest them there.

I am not the kind of person who was ever destined for a meteoric rise. I am not going to wow people with a big award winning book or become famous because of my personality. I am a work horse. I am a plain sturdy hard-working writer. Each rung of the ladder is hard won and I don't leap over any. I grab the next rung and haul myself up and it is exhausting but that is how you run a marathon.

The book I am struggling with at the moment is difficult but I can see how it is about something that people are interested in. It has wider implications. If I get it right it could net a new audience for my work. I feel sad for Steeplechase which I am fond of. It is a book that people like and a book I am proud of but it is a difficult sell with no razzle dazzle to wow a crowd with. It will quietly sit in my backlist, work horse that it is.

I just can't lose heart. I can't let myself slide backwards or fall off the track. I can feel sorry for the books that will fade despite all their careful work. I can mourn them but I have to keep running slowly even when my physical resources are stretched.

Next book then. This hard step up to the next rung on the ladder. Throw everything into the next step forward. Look back as the others are standing on the podium glinting with medals. Be happy for them. Allow for the inevitable day of sadness. Wipe tears. Move on. Remember this is the long game and that is not nearing an end yet.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

New Voice

Finding a new voice is tricky. Finding a new voice that is without voice is something that takes time. I crawl along snail's pace, no more than 1000 words a day and at the end of it I am exhausted by the acrobatics of non-language. I need smells and colours and textures for everything because without words, a person is not named. A person is a bunch of other understandings.  Anyway. I am following a lead. Here is a little grab of something barely formed. Just the beginning of my understanding of a new way of seeing and communicating what we have found:

S knows she is yellow like flowers. Like the explosive petals of a dandelion. S is yellow like a bright kitchen netted from memory, slippery fish of a long forgotten thought is S.
S like the words serendipity and savannah and psoriasis for she is not to know that the disease is not spelled the way it sounds.  She knows some words from magazines left open. Letters are things to be crawled up inside. Letters have sounds and words have  thicker sounds and all sounds are  a bright flash like a musket fire. S knows she tastes like  the grenade sizzle of icing sugar on the tip of a pastry. Everything loud and sharp and, even curled down like the S that she is, she is assaulted by sunlight which feels like a stained glass window sandpapering on her skin. 
Lying here open-mouthed she can taste the ocean, only faintly because there are bodies in the way. All the other people in the house are now familiar to her. Gus is an X, a xylophone, a percussive thump of complex chocolate, a chord but never a single note. David (E) is the water dripping down the outside of a frosted glass on a hot day. Sarah is opaque like toffee. She has no letter she is only Sarah. She shatters if you bite her and the sound of her  essence expelling from the tooth mark is sliced aubergine, weeping with salt tears. Paul is  a double M like sun on a wooden deck. Paul can be dozed upon, danced upon, but pull him to pieces and you could build him into a fence or a dog kennel. 
She is busy opening her mouth, sucking in the air and filtering it for the foam on the top of a breaking wave. She is trying to count the shells washed up on the nearby beach, sorting the ones that still have snails inside them, dead snails red and hard on the back of your palate like raw egg, live snails soft as butter. The beach is close enough for her to smell. The shells are a potent part of the strandal perfume. She is an olfactory adventurer and then the door is open and he steps inside.

She hears the word Vivienne which is what they call her. Vivienne and it is like nails down a chalkboard which she remembers from school. Yes she still remembers school. “David” and at first she imagines they are talking about E. She didn’t expect there would be two people with the same name in her house, but then there were three Jackies in her class at school (Jay, Jacky, Jacqueline) and two John’s (Big John, Little John). Two Davids then and this one is liqueur. She can tell by his voice and the scent of him which is felt. She wants to press her cheek to the sound of his voice. She moves from under one chair to the next. He is in the hallway. He is walking towards the kitchen. She can smell the crotchal must as he walks. Sunshine on sand, seawater soaked into a silk scarf. She is under the table before they reach it. The newness of his presence is like a container of gorgonzola opened and beginning to take up every cubic centimetre of the room.  He is all she can think of. There is no X laughing and slapping his hands together. There is no television mumble. The arrangement of the plates (smaller ones on the bottom of the stack, larger ones on top) no longer bothers her. She doesn’t care that the blue cup is sitting beside the green cup in a cacophony of cupboardness. She cares only about the information she can glean from his unique presence in the room. The assault of her senses with this new David and already she has given him an R for rose and rebelliousness and rambling and rapture. R. The essential letter in her alphabet. He has dropped into her life and suddenly the words can be completed. The alphabet is secure. R David. Her David. She was trembling.   Time  is not linear. Time exists all at once and now they have met he is always here as her parents are here, as her teachers, the other kids in school, all the letters she had ever come across, the ocean, all here now and always. Still, he roused her from the thick soup of everything at once. He, R David, was singular and linear. He, or rather, her relationship to him was something, and suddenly there was a sense to the hands on a clock. One minute followed another. R David would stand up and he would leave. He must stay. R David must stay must stay must stay. And when he moved his leg she reached out to him. She touched him and she was the cold sizzle from a sprinkler. She was life-giving. She was S and all the other letters vibrated against her in their joy of completion.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

craft issues

My blog used to be about sex. Now it is a combination of craft issues and life issues with a bit of sex thrown in.  Well, this is a post about craft so if you are a writer and have experienced a frustrating speed bump in your work - read on.

I have a block of time set aside to write. This is perhaps the first problem. I have gone away to a little isolated shack and I have decided to complete the first draft of the new book here. The deadline I have set myself is pretty steep. I had about 40 000 words to write and two and a half weeks to write it in. That is certainly achievable. I have written more when I have been caught in the tidal change of a book. The other problem is that this is a new book.  I don't know it well enough. I don't know the characters. My ideas about the plot are all in my head and not in my heart. The other problem is I don't really know what this book will read like. I knew pretty early that it would be a romantic comedy and yet I came to this understanding with some trepidation. I hate romantic comedies. I say this knowing that there are some wonderful exceptions. When Harry Met Sally is likeable. There is nothing not to like about that film. I am sure there there are some books in the genre that will be wonderful although I struggle to think of any right now.  I had just started to dig around and find ones that I was drawn to. I had let myself smile at the acid wit of some Dorothy Parker stories before I found my comfort zone with Will Self's Cock and Bull.  I would much rather write a Will Self-like novel than indulge in the soft sweet Rom Coms that Hollywood loves.

I have started writing the book and there might be some competent writing even in a first draft. I can see that the relationship is sparking. I know there are some meaty issues to explore in the text. I am fascinated by some of the ideas and yet I am afraid that what I have written is more Nick Hornby than Will Self.  I do not like this likeable book I am working on.  I can see the commercial potential of it and that puts me off entirely. I know I am writing a book that people will be fond of. Bookclubs could read it. People could buy it in Coles. It has a simmering naughtiness, a slightly unsettling after burn but for the most part it is nauseatingly palatable.  I don't like this book yet. I have not found the thing that sets it apart and makes it the awkward outsider in the school yard.  This is a book that can cheerfully play with all the other kids. In other words it is a book that seems unlike me.

I have two choices.  I can continue on with this book. I can do some more reading. I can chip away at it page by page, I can try to find something of myself in the unfolding story, or I can return to the book that I just finished. The one that is at first draft stage, the horror novel that needs more work. That book felt right from the very beginning. We were never at odds, that manuscript and I. We were in collusion. I enjoyed writing every page and there is still more to draw out in the text.

Today I will have to make a decision. I am wasting my time struggling with myself. I have to commit to the new book or commit to putting it down for now. That is how you write a book, you move through the hard bits. You just keep working. I either do it now, or set it aside till my attitude changes and agree to work on something else.

Today I just think and make a decision and return to it with a decisive plan.

This is how you write a book.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Adjusting to the Dark

Opening your eyes to the dark and the slight creak of the wind bowing the trees outside your widow. Something outside. A sense of it and your eyes still adjusting to the shadows.  Something moving out there. A glimpse of it. Standing and checking the window because there is a sudden chill and ice through veins. The rattle of a pane ajar. Locking it. Out. Peering into a garden of light and shadow, shuddering. Sound of it. A pattering like one leg after another. Insectile. And the skin set to caterpillar crawling. Where? In the dark? Where? Eyes adjusting and readjusting and the sound of it, a running or a footfall from a many legged thing. Outside. No. Turning. Adjusting to a greater shade of dark. An expanse of lightless floor. Empty. And the pat pat patter, closer, stealing breath. And then. Look up. Look up.

Too late. For there is the stretch and then the drop.


How can you time the fear to the rhythm of sex. Heart beating in time to your fear and lust all at once, capillaries filling with blood, the swell in your loins or the swell of blood to the chest, the shortness of breath, the breathing, breathing, trying to metre out the experience. Trying not to lose it one way or the other.

He tells me I need to time my fear to my sex. Your sex scenes are by far the longest, most physically engaging of all the scenes. The fear needs to find it's rhythm in the same way, delaying, stepping forward, overtaking the flesh.

I am back to you Bataille. Sex/death all of life in the heartbeat too loud in your skull. The end and the beginning overlapping, the craft both things at once.  So we go back to it. We time it. We find a way to lure ourselves into the trap of our own fear. We immerse ourselves. Scared. Full body scared. And then, when the time is right, we come.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Knowing it is there

So you smell it and you know it is there. Under the bed. A cliche, but really in this tiny room room there is no other place to hide.

There are two options open to you now.  Back away. Close the door. Leave the room to return - when? Each time you return now you will not know what it was or where it will be hiding next. There will be a fear of every opening drawer, curtains, sheets, dreams.

It is here now. You know because of the smell of it. That wild armpit of sweat and fight and urine, that loamy brew of mould and gut and egg. So from its smell you know it is here now and it is bad. A smell like running, fast, away, and yet you take one step closer, another.

The bedspread is cold and harsh on the fingertips, cheap fibres, a whore's curtain. And to know you will have to lift it. You will have to see.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Lying in bed. Breathing. The throb of your own heart in your temple, a chill in the air. Colder than it should be and even when you pull the blankets up to your chin there is no warmth in them. Your breathing is loud. Perhaps your sinuses are blocked. A cold coming on. You sniff. Clear, cold air, but when you breath again you are out of sync, a double breath. It is as if someone were in bed beside you. You pull the blanket back and it is cold, cold but no one there and nothing but the strange syncopation. You hold your breath, stop the sound of the air wheezing through your own lungs. Your pulse throbs and yes, there is still the intake, the exhale, breath, not yours but someone else in the room. You turn your head toward the sound. Your heartbeat is so loud it almost obliterates it but it is there. Where. You squint in the almost dark and it is then that you notice that the wall beside the bed is unquiet. A tiny movement, in, a shift and swelling out.