It’s an awful word really for what is an already an often terrifying ordeal. Submission. It’s down on your knees, saying please, please. That’s why I’d rather say I made an application yesterday for a writing fellowship. Scary stuff but it has to be done to put myself out there and find a mainstream publisher. I won’t say where to at the moment but it is actually a place. A place to get your foot in the door but more importantly write uninterrupted for a week in a wonderful location. Gardens, bushland, peace and quiet. More importantly, meals fixed! Yes, this place is real and it’s reassuring to know it does exist. Bliss has a name!
When you actually think about it, a writing life is a very strange way to live. I’ve been living this life for thirty years now and both my children (11 years apart) just thought Mum was a bit weird. Thirteen years ago when I moved up north and bought a new house as a single mum, I decided I was going to have a study (a Room of My Own) even if it killed me. I even managed to get a wall to wall bookcase. I have another house now but unfortunately don’t have that wonderful bookcase and strangely enough find I do most of my writing at cafes these days. Not sure why exactly but escape is a factor. You know, at home you have housework waiting for you, dogs to be walked, a garden to tend to. At a cafe all you can do is to talk to friends, write or read.
When I think about it, behind most of my “submissions,” has been the desire for fame and fortune (of course) but also the desire for more time to write. A bit of money coming in so that I don’t have to work forty hours per week AND WRITE. Instead, say, three days a week with two to do my writing. A dream? Maybe but it’s lovely to have something to aim for and gives me the strength to make these submissions.
When I’m writing two very important things have to be there for everything to fall into place. 1. The writing of the manuscript has to challenge me in some way and 2. I must be passionate about my subject matter. The Grey Silk Purse is my sixth book and both these things definitely apply. In my earlier novels this wasn’t quite so obvious to me. I was just writing a book! But now after writing prose for thirty years, themes and concerns do become clearer.
With my first novel, just putting my ideas down was enough of a challenge. I mean could I even finish the damn thing let alone write coherently? With my second novel this was even more true because I began writing the enormous (still unpublished second manuscript) when my second child was five months old. I have vivid memories of Elise in a capsule and me struggling to borrow a heap of library books before she screamed the place down. And later of clasping her as a toddler between my legs to stop her from crawling off whilst I desperately tried to finish some photocopying for my research into the Broken Hill Proprietary Co.
With my third manuscript the construction of the novel defeated me (for the moment) but themes were emerging. Themes of loss – loss of place, loss of memory. Of abuse and madness. With my first published book (and fourth manuscript) Tomaree the writing challenge was how to blend the past with the present; how to move smoothly from 1942 to 1972 and back again many times. Luckily the passion kicked in (a passion to raise awareness of the wonderful Australian GI brides who gave up everything for love).
For my last novel Crossing Paths, the challenge was enormous! To create eight very different characters and give them succint personalities. I’m not sure that I succeeded but I gave it a fair old try. And the passion was of course for the wonderful world of BookCrossing.
Now I am facing a new writing challenge and it is quite daunting – to recreate life as an ambulance driver working in the Macedonian front of 1918; my passion to highlight the wonderful work of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and other heroic women such as the Australian Olive Kelso King.
Wish me luck!!