Friday, February 03, 2006

Cosmic Harmony

I told a writer friend today that I was thinking of attempting a novel again, and he said something that quite amused me (he is one of the funniest writers I know - fresh, subversive and always coming up with the unexpected). He said something like, "Wow. I wouldn't have the staying power to write a novel. Magazine articles are like robbing banks - you get in, you take what you need, and you get out as fast as you can."


Some years ago I was determined to be a novelist. I wrote a couple of full length manuscripts and sent them off to every slush pile in town. On two separate occassions I received calls from the head honchos of large publishers. One was Hodder & Stoughton, the other was Random Century (now House, I think, although I could have that back to front).

I met the Hodder guy in a pub in Balmain. I still remember it clearly because his assistant had told me over the phone that this was very unusual because "Bert doesn't meet many unpublished authors". Typically, I was late for the meeting and disorganised and as nervous as hell. I took public transport and caught the wrong bus, changed to the right one, it got caught up in heavy traffic, I got off to walk and and hope to flag a cab down only to eventually see the bus I had been on finally make it through the traffic snarl and disappear into the distance... I eventually made it to the pub in Balmain, carrying my thick manuscript prominently because that was how Bert was going to recognise me. We shook hands and said the things you say, and I realised with a mixture of horror and amusement that I was so nervous that my mouth had dried and my smile had over-stayed its welcome; my top lip was stuck to my dry teeth. I actually had to use my finger to kill the smile. I must have looked totally creepy.

We talked and in the end he said to keep in touch because he was curious to see what my next manuscript was going to be like.

The second meeting was memorable because the publisher and the freelance editor who had recommended the manuscript were both there in a plush office overlooking Lavender Bay, just around from the Milson's Point end of The Harbour Bridge. Stunning view. We sat and talked and one of the things the publisher said was that the voice of the main character was wrong and that teenage boys would not talk or think like that, and "I should know."

That 'I should know' stuck with me because she was in her 50s and obviously believed that having kids of her own meant she knew teenagers inside and out. Erm, hello? Have you been a male teenager? No? Didn't think so. But guess what? I have.

That moment passed without me saying anything, and after a while I felt detatched from the scene because the publisher and editor started talking to each other about the story as though I wasn't there, then they mentioned a couple of incidents in the story, and suddenly the two of them were falling about the place nominating what they thought were the funniest scenes, doing that thing of trying to wave the other's laughter quiet and saying, "No no - what about when Davey helps the girlfriend's mother in the kitchen and he diligently shells all the snow peas..."

It just felt so strange to see other people laughing at my writing, right there in front of me. It was probably the first time I had seen other people laughing at my stuff.

Anyway, I couldn't go back and re-write those stories, I wrote another particularly messy novel - feedback was that it had its moments but that I lacked discipline and focus. In the end I realised that like my friend, I liked robbing literary banks and eventually wasn't too bad at it.

I won a national award for a short story called Remembering Argos, then had a few more stories published in a variety of magazines (I had been shortlisted and published in an anthology before the competition win with a story called The Funniest Man In The World Tells A Funny Story and had had a couple of others published in other anthologies too, so it's not like the win was the start of anything).

Then I largely gave up on fiction. Part of the reason was because after the competition win and having made it into respected magazines and journals, part of me said okay, I've proved my point; I have what it takes. Part of me was tired of the rejection... oh yeah - Argos was rejected for four years. Each time it came back, always accompanied with praise, I'd sit down to re-write, only to make it through the story without changing anything. I'd end up just sending it off again, it was rejected again and again, then out of the blue it won first prize in a national competition attracting more than a thousand entries. Go figure. So yeah, if it sounds like I've had moderate success, you should take a look at the volumes of rejection letters and correspondence I have.

And another reason I gave up on fiction (almost completely) was that I started clubbing and soon after landed a job as an editor and staff writer with a clubbing magazine. Never worked in an office before that, I am untrained and uneducated and have no qualifications. I didn't really know a lot about music or magazines at that stage, and it was just a steep learning curve that chewed up a lot of my energy. It also gave me plenty of opportunity to write silly stuff that amused me, so I had an outlet.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because yesterday as I was walking home, the idea for a novel came to me, and I feel like it's time I gave it another shot. I was wondering how to channel the time and enjoyment I get out of banging out all this blog stuff, and it just came to me. Is there some kind of cosmic harmony in the fact that I decided to quit the magazine, and so soon after I have the urge to tackle a novel again? Who knows.

As with the more ponderous posts on this blog, it's really for me to sort my thoughts out. It's like therapy (which I am in need of sometimes). In fact even the amusing stuff is my therapy. You think I write it for you? Pfft.

But I do hope you enjoy my therapy, whoever you are.

Funny stuff in the next post.

Be nice to each other.


Guyana-Gyal said...

I'm not envious about your travels.

I'm not envious about you living in oz, Sydney, etc etc.

BUT I AM ENVIOUS about your writing. You do have a way with words.

[Sorry, Quick. Had to get that out of my system.]

Anonymous said...

hello, i know you don't like anonymous posters, but I'm just a really shy person. Anyway, I like your writing and I think you should pursue the novel.

Quick said...

Thank you GG, but you have nothing to be envious about as far as having a way with words. Your stories make happiness.

And whoever you are anonymous... I bet you are not shy at all. But thanks. I'm glad you like my writing... unless, of course, you are being ironic about that too...

Anonymous said...

no i'm not being ironic. i stumbled upon your blog through miminewyork, so that's why i thought you didn't like anonymous commenters. i'm just talking as a fellow writer. i know how rejection feels and it sucks :( but i think nothing's worse than someone who doesn't DO anything about it. i read your short story and really enjoyed it. sort of made me sad though

Quick said...

Yeah, I mainly don't like anonymous comments because I don't really understand why, if people have an opinion, they aren't open and honest about it. Like if you criticise someone's writing, I just think you should be prepared to present some of your own writing. Or something of yourself. Or something.

Mimi is hit and miss with me. But that's cool, because being human is a messy adventure.

Glad you liked Argos. It is a sad story, so it's good that it made you feel sad.

Don't be so anonymous next time.

Clare said...

"I was wondering how to channel the time and enjoyment I get out of banging out all this blog stuff"


That was a hollow laugh, by the way. Because I'm on Novel II, and I keep thinking I should find a way of channelling the time and energy I put into blogging... reroute it into the novel. I've never managed it yet. Yes, sure, I do work hard on the novel (in fits and starts), but something I almost never do is sit here until way past my bedtime doing novel-writing, just cos I felt like it. And very annoying it is too.

But hell, that's just me. I didn't mean to rain on your parade. And anyway, I'm halfway through Novel II, so it's not like I'm not getting it done.

P.S. This post has reminded me again of how incredibly lucky I am to have been published. It's so hit and miss. I just happened to find an editor who liked my stuff and had a space for it. It's a bleedin' lottery, I tell you.

Quick said...

Nah, that's okay, not raining on any parade. Blogging and fiction - both are writing, but they are very different creatures. I was just trying to find a way of substituting one for the other.

Prolific writers like Stephen King must have that blogging energy or compulsion with their fiction. Bastards.

Will check out more of your blog, Clare, to answer my questions about your own work.