Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 7th April 2010

For the past eighteen months I have been telling family and friends that my book will be published. Before that I was just ‘writing a book’ – an oft-heard phrase. I think many of them have grown so used to hearing about this mythical book that it will actually be quite a surprise when they see it on sale. However, waiting for family and friends’ reactions is in many ways as daunting as waiting for the reviews. Because they read it from a different perspective, knowing me and my story. And because I can’t scrunch them all up and throw them in the bin if I don’t like what they say! Although, I’m not sure I can even trust their feedback – after all, I don’t think I would tell anyone I was fond of that I thought their book was a load of rubbish – at least, not if I wanted to remain on speaking terms.

I also realised a while ago that there’s another potential problem with having people I know read my book. I’m not sure if it’s a bigger problem for me or for them really. The question is: how many of them will be looking for themselves somewhere inside the pages? Sure enough, when my mother had finished reading Come Back to Me, one of her first comments was that she hoped the character of Chloe’s mother wasn’t modelled on her! I was pleased to reassure her that it wasn’t the case. None of my characters have been modelled on anyone I know, though no doubt at times I have drawn on my own experiences with people to help me to look further into a character’s actions and motivations. But it’s very general – believe me! Although perhaps I should do a quick friend tally now, and see if anyone stops speaking to me in the next few months – the reason why, whether valid or not, might just lie within the pages of my novel.

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 6th April 2010

It is always interesting to see how writers respond to editorial guidance. Some are completely open to suggestions, others are not, and there’s a third category who seem to be keen for a critique, but then either don’t like the reality, or don’t seem to alter anything much as a result. What many writers appear to get stuck on is the ‘Well, I like it’, or ‘It has to happen because…’ response. A writer becomes so attached to a piece of writing, or a certain event in their plot, that they will hold on to it come hell or high water. But I believe that the more malleable you see your work, right up to the point it becomes set in print, then the more likely you are to create a better book. This doesn’t mean you have to follow any or all editorial suggestions, because ultimately, and quite rightly, the author has the final say. However, it is worth remembering that editors are there to help you produce the best finished product you can, not to ruin your treasured script! Therefore their comments should not be dismissed too lightly.

That’s the theory, anyway, coming from an editor’s perspective. But how did I go as a writer? Well, I had this experience with Come Back to Me. The book had a prologue, which was the very first thing I wrote for the novel, and I loved it. Every time I reread the prologue, it made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could get this thing published. So when the script came back with a big pencil line streaking across the first page, I did have a bit of a gulp. And, if I hadn’t had an editing background, I would have probably argued passionately for it to remain – because I loved it. However, the thing is, while I felt it was a fine piece of writing, it interfered with something more important: it delayed the real start to my story. So when I’d had a few minutes to think about it, I knew the editor was right. The prologue was a personally beloved part of an earlier draft, but it didn’t belong in the finished piece. So out it went. And the book is better for it.

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 5th April 2010

I find it very easy to lose myself in my writing, and once I do, I often feel more like an observer within the story rather than its creator. On coming back from one of these reveries it can seem like I’m waking up, since I’ve usually forgotten where I am. During these times, one of the absolute pleasures I get from writing is when my characters turn around and do something completely unexpected. When I was working on Come Back to Me, my husband would give me the raised eyebrow on occasions where I would excitedly announce that ‘Wow, my character did something so strange today… it took me completely by surprise’, or, ‘I found out something I never knew about my character today’. And I don’t blame him – depending on how you look at it, this sounds anything from a little bit pretentious to borderline insane. However, I’ve heard many other writers talk about experiencing the same thing. I’m inclined to believe that it happens when your imagination is firing so well that the process of creation is occurring spontaneously rather than through concerted effort. This doesn’t happen to me all the time, but it does occur now and again – and then I find my stories going off in directions that I’m quite sure were not in the original concept.

However, on evaluating such occurrences, while sometimes I love them, at other times it looks more like my characters have just been having fun running amuck in my head upon realising I’ve let them loose. Which is why it is great to be able to put my editor’s hat on again, and examine just what these new events are doing for my story. Ultimately, are they contributing to it, or taking it off on too much of a tangent. Because now and again it’s not a bad idea to remind my characters who’s boss.

Finally, I have a complete first draft of my new book. It’s called Beneath the Shadows, and it’s a spooky page-turner set on the North Yorkshire moors, as a young woman searches for her husband, who has mysteriously disappeared… Read more here, and keep checking the website for publication updates!

Peruvian flowersI’ve reached a very exciting point in my fledgling writing career. With the two novels that have dominated my mind for the last six or seven years now completed, I finally get to let loose all those other little seedlings of ideas for what might make a great story. I’ve already whittled them down to a chosen few that I’m germinating both in my mind and on paper. I’m playing around a lot with different concepts and seeing what begins to bed down and grow. I have notebooks full of ideas and short pieces of writing, so I don’t feel stuck. The challenge is to come up with a clear and compelling plan that I can begin to work on in earnest. I had this crazy notion that I might take a short hiatus in between writing, but it seems that a writer without a story is like a sad little droopy plant starved of nourishment. Oh well, nothing for it but to keep scribbling and see what happens!

Past and present interweave in a story that traces the Gordon family from the arrival of Scottish immigrant Hamish Gordon in the 1850s to the life of his great-granddaughter Sarah, on their family property, Wangallon, in the Australian bush.

I was lucky enough to see this debut fiction novel before it was published. An engrossing multi-generational saga set around Wangallon, the Gordon family homestead, this multi-layered story of romance, risk and family secrets by Nicole Alexander, ‘Australia’s Newest Bush Storyteller’, is highly recommended.

Click here to listen to me talk about Come Back to Me, writing and editing with Valerie Khoo at the Sydney Writers’ Centre.

I had a fantastic time at the Perth Writers Festival. It was a new experience for me to be on panel discussions, and I am very grateful to Grant Stone, Michael Koryta, Helen Merrick, Liz Byrski and Anita Heiss for making it such a thoroughly enjoyable debut. I very much enjoyed talking about book editing too: first of all in a Publishing Seminar on the Friday before the main festival, with Georgia Richter, Jon Doust and Donna Ward, and then with 25 brave participants at my workshop on Saturday afternoon – where we spent 3 hours in a room without air conditioning on a 40 degree day! It was lovely to meet so many fellow booklovers over the course of the weekend, and to cap it all off, Come Back to Me was launched on a balmy Sunday evening in the beautiful Sunken Amphitheatre at UWA, by Amanda Curtin, author of the wonderful WA-based book The Sinkings. Thank you to the organisers and volunteers at the festival for making everything run so smoothly – I’m in awe of the organisational skill that must go into such an event. I’m looking forward to doing more events in future – but first I have the small matter of a book to finish!