News from afar

I guess I’ve been fortunate this year that long periods of silence on the blog have generally translated to great periods of productivity away from it.

It’s been a while. I feel like I’m returning from a distant land, a bit like I did after I finished editing my novel, though it’s mostly just a place in my mind.

So, news. I’ve almost finished the first draft of my new novel, The A to Z of How to Survive Absolutely Everything. And, very excitingly – I’ve been shortlisted for the Ampersand Prize for my YA manuscript, The Space Between!!! Also, somewhat freakishly, the same day I was notified of the shortlisting I received an email from a commissioning editor at Peguin – Random House saying she’d loved my submission, which I sent them back in August, and requesting the full manuscript.

You’d think I’d be elated and I was and am, absolutely.

I read the first email notifying me of the shortlisting while walking with my son in the Botanic Gardens and I had to stop for a minute while I felt the world re-adjust itself around me. I felt like everything had changed.

I read the second email a few hours later at work, while trying to keep the first a secret (confidentiality was requested until the shortlist was announced). I actually couldn’t make sense of it for a few minutes. Who was this person and why were they reading my manuscript? Oh, Penguin, right. But with a few more startled expletives than that.

These glimmers of success have come after months and months of hard, solid silence, during which the thing I’ve finished writing has continued to live inside me, in snatches of words, in images, in dreams, even as I immerse myself in the next story. Which is in itself a strange experience.

But as well as feeling elated, overjoyed, flabbergasted about all this sudden news, I have felt – possibly the dominant feeling – frightened. It’s a fear that has niggled for a while since the first strongly positive reader review of my manuscript. A feeling of: but what if I can’t do it again? And it’s a fear that I think I probably have to learn to live with. I know that whatever I’ve done will never be enough. It’s what I’m doing now, and whether it’s going to be any good, that matters.

The thing I wanted to write about today, which I’m taking a long way around to get to, is notions of success and how they change.

Four years ago, success for me was finishing a first draft, any first draft, however terrible.

A year ago, it was to actually edit something into a form that I wouldn’t find horrifying: to make something that was definitely complete, that could be sent off into the world for better or worse.

Since then success has been to even receive a personal rejection. Then to be shortlisted, to win, to sign a contract, to one day hold that thing: Book.

Which is where in my mind I write THE END.

I told my neighbour from down the hall today about my shortlisting. He’s a book person – he owns two bookshops here in Canberra. I find it almost impossible not to tell book people my news, because I feel like they’ll understand. He said, after congratulations etc.: ‘Well I hope I’ll never see your book in my stores, I only sell remainders.’

And how funny to feel that notion of success shift again from the dream, so tightly held, of having my work become a book, to wanting people to buy it and to read it too, in enough numbers that it doesn’t end up on sale for $4.95 in a bin somewhere.

So, I keep having to draw myself in, find my centre again and hold to it, which in fact is none of this, no matter how distracting and pleasing and terrifying it might be.

Because what matters is just the story; writing it. The words sounding on the page. The characters and what happens to them. Trying to make something that carries some shard of true feeling.

Which just means: keep working.

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