Writers know what I mean. Writing is hard! It’s about finding the story and getting it down in a coherent way. It’s about editing, rewriting, deleting, and thinking and mulling and… I could go on. Wait! I already have.
But it’s also about finding the sweet spot of the story, the joy of a beautiful sentence, of falling in love with the characters, nurturing and cajoling them along and the sadness of leaving them when it comes to the end. It’s all consuming, night and day in your head until it’s time to let it go. Out into the world for others to see, to judge, to like or not.
I’ve been writing my next book for the last eighteen months, pushing it along slowly and methodically at times, researching and looking for the story. The draft is done and there are two stories not one. Parts of it have been rewritten at least three times so far.
Rewriting is not new to me. My first novel was rewritten at least twenty times, my second perhaps ten or more times. I enjoy the editing and rewriting process as I mould the book from rough diamond to something polished and a joy to read (I hope).
Someone said to me yesterday. “Surely it’s easier by now.” I raised my eyebrows. It’s not easier. Should it be? For me it’s not. And neither will the next one and the next one after that. There’s no easy shortcut. It doesn’t get done by any other way than sitting/standing in front of a keyboard or notebook or Dictaphone and just writing.
Writing is just plain, hard work!
It was as if I’d taken a lover.I’d spent day and night with it. I thought of little else.
Pride, love and energy caressed each page. That was how I felt when I finished and printed my first draft.
Yet doubts haunted me. Was it good enough to show off yet? Filled with trepidation, I approached five people to read the first draft. I chose people who I knew would give me honest and direct feedback. I wasn’t interested in feeding my ego. I wanted to develop my writing.
Like waiting for exam results I was restless to have their feedback. Days and weeks rolled by as busy lives got in the way. Then one by one they came back. There were pencil notes on grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. Some pointed out flaws that I’d not seen before; changes in point of view; over explaining a point in two or three ways, repeating some of the same words over and over again. These were just a few areas to work on.
Then my good friend Don sat me down and asked, “What do you want your book to be about?” We talked about the plot. What was I writing? Was the plot a series of events pulled together without any cohesion? Yes, I had lost the plot.
I suddenly saw my book in a different light – it was clear what I needed to do. My book and I needed time apart. Fortunately, it was Christmas and the holiday season made it easier to deal with any seperation anxiety.
Eight weeks later, I opened the file on the computer – there was my book. I’d missed it. I re-read the first chapter, said goodbye and then deleted it. Then, I painstakenly altered, deleted, expanded, tweaked and corrected. Each chapter and every sentence had to earn it’s place. I had to be ruthless. With that, I changed the whole direction of the book.
You can’t do that to a lover.
A holiday to far north Queensland with my dear friends, Pauline and Ron, took me away from my book. The trip had been pre-planned for months and somehow I had to wrench myself from the computer. Like a newborn child I couldn’t leave it, so I took my writing with me.
The day before we left, we found out that a category 5 cyclone was bearing down on Cooktown, some 650 kilometres away from our destination, Townsville.
When we arrived it was calm and sunny in Townsville. The cyclone hit Cooktown and was downgraded to category 4 – nothing for us to worry about. The next day it began to rain. We watched the weather forecast closely – the cyclone was making its way down the coast straight toward us. Should we now be worried?
The next morning I woke and all seemed calm in our solidly built apartment overlooking the sea. I got up and opened the curtains – the wind and rain was fierce. The palm trees were being buffeted from side to side; the waves from the sea splashed over the pool. Pauline stood next to me – we looked at each other in alarm. Is this what a cyclone is like?
The loudspeaker crackled on and a man with a deep voice announced, “Good morning, the lifts are closed until the cyclone has passed. Please stay indoors. We apologise for any inconvenience.” Our plans for the day had been thwarted – what should we do?
With my obsession never far away, my thoughts went to my book. I could use the imagery of the cyclone but what else? Could my friends re-enact the murder? After a little persuasion, they agreed to humour me. The scene was re-enacted – laughter included. I wasn’t expecting an academy award winning performance, but they did a great job to help me visualise how the murder might have happened. But it created more questions. I wondered why the woman hadn’t run out of the house while her husband was being stabbed. She had picked up the phone instead.
Soon after, the sky cleared. We looked out of the window – people were on the beach, children were in the pool. The cyclone had passed.
I had finished reading the book “Questions of Travel’. The author, Michelle De Kretzer, wrote two stories with two points of view. One was about a man who suffered the loss of his wife and son under horrific circumstances during the war in Sri Lanka and the other was the story of a wanderlust young woman.
Perhaps I could do the same thing but instead tell one story from two points of views. What I had was an important history in my fathers letters.Could I write a book about what happened on the island?
The Australian media focussed on the murders of the husband and barely mentioned his wife. I know it was indicative of the times but this got under my skin. I wanted her to have a voice. Why had they died? What had happened?
One night I lay in bed and thought about what she must have endured . I couldn’t sleep so I got up and wrote my first chapter.
I hadn’t written anything creative since high school. I had worked in the financial services industry for more than 30 years. What did I know about writing? I hadn’t written anything . . . or had I. I began thinking about my working life. I had written policy, procedure, letters, emails, newsletters, speeches,templates. Perhaps I was equipped to write but didn’t have the confidence. What I did have though, was my growing obsession which drove me to just give it a go. What did I have to lose? I read that first chapter to my family and with their encouragement began to build confidence.
I went away for a weekend with some close friends and read the first chapter. I got some positive feedback – wow. A small part of me wondered if they were humouring me . . . or if they were just shocked to find out I wanted to write a book . . . or maybe just surprised I could string two words together.
It was enough to spur me on to write five chapters. I picked out the events that my father wrote about then visualised the scenes with the help of the photos I had.The story was built around the events and I filled in the missing blanks. How did I do this? Research and imagination.
How did I know if I could write? Well, I still don’t but if it makes sense and the reader gets something out of it then I’m half way there. Aren’t I?
I had almost finished typing up the letters.
The next one dated 3 May 1949 dropped a bombshell. The gruesome murder of a couple – I knew their names. My father had mentioned them in his earlier letters. Why had this Australian husband and wife been stabbed to death? I didn’t know them but my father had a connection to them. I don’t know why, but I felt sad. Was I the only one who thought about them after 65 years?
I flipped through the remaining letters – there were only 3. The murderer was at large and three detectives from Brisbane arrived. The next letter speculated about the murderer. “By the way, you seemed to think that natives were the cause of this strife – well they’re not. They would never come at anything in that nature and so far as I’m concerned the Chinese aren’t a patch on them so far as work and manners is concerned.” Did he believe someone from the Chinese community was the culprit?
The final correspondence ended by saying that a person had been arrested.Then nothing more.
Imagine my frustration. I had lots of questions and my father was no longer here to ask him. Then, when I thought about it, I realised he probably didn’t know much anyway.
I had typed up 65 pages and 23000 words – a story had unfolded. All I had to do was work out how to tease these events into a coherent story. That’s when I started writing my novel and my obsession.