Back in July, I was surprised to find my novel Surface Tension on the longlist for the Children’s/Young Adult Fiction category of the Davitt Awards, which are presented annually for crimewriting by Australian women.
The reason I was surprised is simply that across the many, many drafts I did of that book, I never once realised that what I was writing would fit into that genre. I was really just exploring an image, and shaping the sort of narrative that seemed to flow naturally from that process. When the longlist came out, I said, Huh? Really? Cool. And then I called my mother, because she is possibly Australia’s most avid reader of crime fiction, and I knew she’d get a kick out of it.
It was a long longlist, full of great books, and I never imagined I’d get any further. Then in August, the shortlist was announced, and it was somewhat shorter. Three books. And mine was one of them.
I had to call my mother again.
… where I tell you I’ve been busy.
And where I use the cunning technique of splitting the first sentence in order to form a pointlessly catchy title for the post. A title that tells you nothing much at all. A title that if it tells you anything, tells you that this is going to be one of those shapeless, formless catch-up posts that people who are fond of articles with titles like “Ten Top Tips For Terrific Blogging” are so appalled by.
So I’ve been busy – busy being hard on myself for not having finished the novel I began so-called ‘fast-drafting’ at the beginning of the year. Apparently for me, fast drafting means an average of about 12.6 words a day. Which are then thrown out the next day, to be replaced by 12.6 possibly better ones.
But then I’ve been busy remembering that I have three books coming out in the US this year (No Bears, Duck for a Day, and Surface Tension, now known as Below, about which I shall write a vastly more terrific post at a later date), and two in Australia (Ten Tiny Things, Wreck the Halls, about which, terrific-ness, also later). And that I have in fact been occupied rewriting and copy-editing and proofreading and visiting schools and libraries and conferences and answering interview questions and doing promotional stuff here and there and everywhere and the many, many other bits and pieces associated with what it means to have five books coming out in the same year.
I’ve posted before about how ducks seem to show up in my life at odd moments. When I finished the revisions for Duck for a Day, I woke up to discover a duck on my doorstep. And when I sent the manuscript of a follow-up to my editor, I had a visit from a mother and ducklings.
More recently, I’ve had a bevy of ducks arriving on my doorstep. Ducks of different kinds, but very welcome all the same.
I am delighted now to present to you Duck the First, being the Candlewick version of Duck for a Day, which has just been published in the US, and which kicked off its life over there by somehow managing to get itself reviewed in The Wall Street Journal. The jacket is slightly different to the Australian release but apart from that there are only minor changes to the text, something which might perhaps be the topic of a future post.
The main thing is that it’s out, and people seem to be liking it, and that happily QUACK! appears to be an exclamation that knows no borders.
So this is the second post in the three-way blogapalooza I’m sharing with Anna Branford and Sally Murphy. Because it’s part of a series, I’ve followed the same format for the title, but the first thing I should say is that I think it’s misleading.
You don’t ‘get edited’. I’ve never ‘been edited’. It’s not a passive process in which the writer sits back and waits for the editor to tell them what needs to be done. It’s a dialogue – a back-and-forth that begins with the text, moves to the editor, bounces back to the author, who returns to the text, then bounces it back to the editor, and so on thusly for the term of your natural life (or so it can seem).
When I show people the six-page editorial letter for Annabel, Again, or a marked up draft of Surface Tension, I get some interesting reactions. Some people actually draw back in horror. But isn’t it your story? How can you let them? From time to time I hear people – often aspiring writers – talking about the way publishers insist on ‘changing’ people’s work, to shape it to fit their own set of parameters.
But really, that’s not how it works. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. If a publisher were to take this approach, I too would walk very quickly in the opposite direction.
Last week I was interviewed over at Books for Little Hands. One of the questions asked what had been the highlight of my career so far and I found it a little difficult to answer, partly because of my maddening tendency to want to unpack the nuances of every word put before me.
I wanted to wrestle for a while with the word ‘career’ and what that really meant for me and whether it was the ‘right’ term for what I’m doing with this whole writing thing. And the highlights I arrived at had nothing to do with ‘career’ really and more to do with small creative satisfactions. So it may be that my response was a bit disingenuous. Possibly even pretentious.
And then the very next day something happened. I had a genuine career highlight, and it was this:
In April this year, my book Duck for a Day was adapted for musical theatre by Tony Bones Entertainment.
Since they only tour on the east coast, I didn’t get to see the show, but last week, the lovely Tony himself sent me a DVD of one of the performances. And I feel a little ridiculous, but watching it made me a bit teary.
Yesterday I wrote about creative ‘coincidences’, perhaps more aptly described as a certain kind of alignment. Anna Branford, author of the gorgeous Violet Mackerel books had an interesting take on this in the comments, in response to which I will simply nod my head and refer you there.
If you want to see a really interesting example of how this sort of thing might work, check out this Derren Brown experiment in subliminal communication. It’s fascinating stuff.
But to the point I was writing towards yesterday – Surface Tension and the oh no! moment. Here’s what happened.
Ever had this happen? You’re working on a project, or thinking about a project, or you’ve just sent something off to a publisher. And it’s so distinctive. It’s an idea that’s specific to you, emerging from your own personal history, and you’ve attached to it all the other little bits and pieces that accumulate during the writing process, bits and pieces which, again, are idiosyncratic, part of your own subjective experience.
And then all of a sudden you see something similar in Bookseller+Publisher, hey, I’m working on this thing and they look at you oddly and say but *I’m* working on that thing or oh, you mean like that book by suchandsuch.
In an earlier post, I mentioned having been told that Surface Tension had apparently received a “cracker of a review”, but that I hadn’t yet seen it. I’ve now seen it, and a couple of others too, and am so thrilled with the response this book seems to be eliciting so far.
So this is a wholly self-serving post to gleefully report on those reviews and bombard you with my favourite pull-quotes from same.
#1 From Bookseller+Publisher:
Surface Tension is a wonderfully layered story—reading it is like being gradually immersed in a pool of water as each layer of the narrative slowly washes over you. The writing is so gentle that the mystery at the heart of this book is as much a surprise to the reader as it is to Cassie, our protagonist, when piece by piece it floats to the surface before her … There isn’t a dull moment in this book.
I did promise the occasional dash of random and I’m not sure I’ve really been delivering. To rectify that, here are two completely unrelated things:
Random Item #1
Surface Tension came out this week. This is excellent and I’m thrilled to see it on shelves. I’m told it received “a cracker of a review” in Bookseller + Publisher, though I’m yet to see it myself. As you do when you have a shiny new book, I’ve taken to picking up a copy, opening it, reading a few lines, sighing, and putting it back down.
Shall we call it Shiny New Book Syndrome? It is an identifiable disorder – I’m sure of it.
I have a new cover.
I’ve liked all my covers well enough – some more, some less, as is the way of things.
But this cover? I love it. And in a curious kind of reversal, in some ways the cover is responsible for the book.
I wrote this book in 2009 and it was a bit of a mess. I would probably have given up on it but for the fact that I had a grant from the kind people at the Department of Culture and the Arts, and felt beholden to actually produce something.
I wrote it and rewrote it and moved scenes around and moved them back again and deleted them altogether and stepped away from the manuscript and started over – again and again. I tore out metaphorical chunks of hair and really thought the whole thing was dead in the water.