I lost count of the months I devoted to the first draft as I drifted in and out of my early-motherhood haze, but I eventually produced something that vaguely resembled a novel. A beginning, a middle and even, amazingly enough, an end. Even so, I knew the beast wasn’t finished.
As well as several plot holes (I didn’t get around to creating a chapter plan, so the story at the end was quite different to the one at the start), the narrator’s voice was inconsistent (I struggled to settle on her age). Even the narrator’s name was inconsistent. In Chapter 1, Draft 1, I christened her Evie. But halfway through, I fell in love with the name Gracie. I thought bestowing the name on my narrator would remove the temptation to have a third child (back in the real world) for the sole purpose of calling her (or, as luck would have it, him) Gracie. It worked! Tess and Matilda remain our only children. It took a while to weed all the Evies out of the manuscript though.
By this time I felt that if I laboured over the novel any longer, I’d lose either my mind or the will to live, possibly both. So it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) mentorship programme saved my life.
The mentorship included a full manuscript appraisal as well as guidance – a total of 20 hours’ mentoring from an experienced New Zealand author. For free! I joined the NZSA, laboured over an application (devoting only slightly less time to it as I did to my manuscript), and was lucky enough to secure a mentorship with Dunedin author, Penelope Todd, now of Rosa Mira Books.
It was a fantastic experience – and one I couldn’t recommend more highly. After working in isolation for so long, it felt indulgent to have someone get to know my characters as well as I did – questioning their motives as if they were real people, actually caring about what they did and said. I had a whole world – well, a whole fictional town – living (and dying!) inside my head. To have someone else spend time in Coongahoola, my town, was exhilarating.
More than anything I valued Penelope’s encouragement. She went beyond her role as mentor and offered me publishing advice – even going so far as offering to publish the manuscript herself (as an ebook) under her brand, Rosa Mira Books. It was a very exciting offer, and one I would later grab. But at that stage, I was still attached to the idea of a traditional book, so I was keen to pursue the traditional publishing route.
I now had something that didn’t just resemble a novel. It was a novel! I had around 80,000 words, in a logical order! ‘All Our Secrets’ was ready for a publisher to snap up and unleash to the world…