Last week two things happened:
i) This shiny trophy arrived in the post! A Single Stone won the Best Children’s Fiction category of the 2015 Aurealis Awards. This was a mighty fine thing and I’m very grateful to everyone involved.
ii) I was featured in The Australian Writers Centre’s “So You Want to be a Writer” podcast series, which was also a mighty fine thing and a lot of fun to do.
These two things are directly connected. It was the exposure generated by the award that put me on the AWC’s radar as a potential interviewee.
But they’re indirectly connected, too. During the interview, I became aware of a pattern in my responses. When the interviewer, Allison Tait, asked me how I became a children’s writer, I replied that it was sort of accidental. When she asked how it was that I started writing poetry, I replied that it was sort of accidental. We ended up joking about this; we even came up with a potentially excellent future book title: The Accidental Everything.
(Which I immediately claimed, so back right off, writers!)
And then I started thinking about the Aurealis Award, and how I’d said in my acceptance speech that I hadn’t set out to write speculative fiction, that it had just sort of happened.
And then I realised that when Surface Tension won the Davitt Award for Crimewriting back in 2012, I said exactly the same thing – that I hadn’t set out to write a crime novel, indeed that I only realised the book could be seen in that way when it appeared on the Davitt longlist.
Speaking with Allison, while these thoughts whirled through my head, I realised two things:
i) This shtick is probably getting old. I need to come up with some new things to say. If you have any ideas, please forward them via Express Post.
ii) How utterly obnoxious all this might sound. Look, I just fell into it! Oh, what’s this – a publishing contract! Go figure! Oh, I never meant to write a book! I didn’t realise it was a book until I saw all the pages! And the words!
I hope it doesn’t come across that way. Because in using the word ‘accidental’, I don’t mean to downplay things. And I certainly don’t mean to waltz into communities of committed genre writers and readers and say Oops! Well, thanks for the award! Talk to you never!
Perhaps ‘accidental’ isn’t the best choice … a little disingenuous, maybe? But I think my use of it reflects the stumbling nature of my so-called process, the way I follow images and characters down dark alleyways, waiting for the story to evolve. And once it does, it’s a happening thing. By that point, it has its own momentum and I can’t not write it. And if that thing happens to be speculative, or crime, or poetry, or whatever, then that’s just the way it is.
So in that sense it’s accidental. In the sense that I don’t know what I’m doing until I’m well into doing it, or have done it, or others have told me what I’ve done – some point on that continuum, depending on the piece of writing. Sometimes by ‘accidental’ I think I mean ‘unconscious’, and I’m talking about the sorts of things other people see in my work. The student who said, It’s interesting how a lot of your poetry is about borders and edges, margin vs centre etc and I said, What? No it isn’t … oh, wait. I see what you mean. Huh.
But in another sense it’s not at all accidental. Even if I don’t know what I’m doing – perhaps because I don’t know what I’m doing! – it’s a huge amount of work, of sustained effort. It’s incredibly intentional and thoughtful and requires reserves of perseverance and motivation I sometimes despair of ever summoning again.
So don’t accidentally get me wrong. Even when I have no idea what I’m doing, I’m still working hard at it, and there’s nothing accidental about that at all.