When I first started writing ten years ago I envisaged I’d write something serious. A novel. When I say first started writing I don’t include those ghost stories from my teens or the angst laden lyrics that died in a carrier bag without a tune to hang on to.
I wasn’t thinking of short stories either. Except as a stepping stone.
So, with only a couple of short stories under my belt I stared to write a book about an Australian woman leaving the city with her small son, and moving into a small seaside community with all its strange and wonderful inhabitants. It would be a love story. She would find a secret diary in a nook of her rental house from a woman who had lived there before, who, like herself was looking for love. Sea changes were in vogue at the time. I wrote my first sex scene. But I lost momentum and had no idea where I was heading. Except for more sex which I wrote quite badly.
The next attempt began as a short story set in America about a woman walking her dog in the snow who comes across a dead body. Bloody story just wouldn’t end. The more I wrote, the more questions needed answering. It’s still out there – unsolved – but you can be sure there was a conspiracy between the sheriff, the local doctor and the judge. It didn’t help that I had never been to America. Save for that half an hour in Bangor, Maine airport in the early nineties.
A few years later I started a story about a bohemian young woman who made a tree-change, running away her past. She made her own herbal tea and had tisane hair. I was going to call each chapter after the colours of the rainbow. My kids had just started at a Steiner school so you can see my influences. Unfortunately I got thoroughly sick of my heroine’s perfection. I wanted to cut her hair off with blunt scissors which was ironic as that was what her mother had done to her as a child. Great. I was turning into the evil, witch mother in the story I was writing. I walked away.
Meanwhile I wrote tens of short stories and fell in love with the art. I also started writing an honest account of raising two small children and coping with the diagnosis of a mental illness. This one is true. Plenty of inspiration and endless material.
Along with a writing buddy of mine, eighteen months ago we joined the NaNoWrMo competition. The National Novel Writing Month competition. This is a well known writing completion where your only competition is yourself. We signed up to write 1647 words a day for 30 days. At the end of the month we had a rough manuscript of around 50,000 words. The competition usually takes place in November but we took up the mantel in January. In Australia January is August in Europe and the USA. Its holiday month. No one works, they’re all out there sampling the beaches and the local cuisine. The kids are off school. Not ideal. It felt like ants crawled beneath my skin until I wrote my allotted words each day. Then I could enjoy the holiday. Or a nap, whatever worked. But I did it. I’m very anal about instructions but not very good with vague deadlines set by myself. This scenario worked for me.
I had finally written a novel length manuscript. I didn’t have to worry about being distracted or hating my main character. It was tough but there it was. Tucked away in my drawer, or rather on my hard drive (with a copy!), for all eternity. I immediately forgot about it.
It sat there for over a year until I decided to dust it off and enter it into a novel writing competition. I have been tightening and editing and all those ing-things. It’s all there but I can change it. If the protagonist pisses me off I can just have her killed, or at least give her cystitis.
Oh the power of the writer. It makes me giddy with joy. Sorry this has been all about me but after all I am the heroine of my own life. I can make a difference just by changing my mind. That makes me smile.