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Chapter 12: It’s nearly time to dust off my Aussie accent…

Next Friday night I’ll be in Melbourne with sisters in crime, Jennifer Spence and Joanna Baker, talking to Vikki Petraitis about ‘the murderous intertwining of love and family secrets, and its place in broader society’.

Here’s a post I wrote for the Sisters in Crime website in preparation:

An accidental crime novel
by an accidental New Zealander

Chapter 11: Rotorua Noir 2019 – a celebration of crime (from which I returned not only completely unharmed but feeling more alive)

Sometime last year, Ngaio Marsh Awards founder Craig Sisterson invited me to Rotorua Noir, a festival he was organising with crime writer Grant Nicol. I quickly signed up because:

  1. I was enjoying my newfound status as a ‘crime writer’
  2. This would be New Zealand’s first ever crime writing festival
  3. Craig seemed like a pretty cool guy, and
  4. I actually don’t need a reason to sign up for a weekend away

So, this January, on a fittingly overcast Friday morning, I found myself in Rotorua with next-to-no expectations for what lay ahead…

The festival officially started the next day, but for me the adventure began when I stabbed my friend’s mother in the throat with a car key – during the ‘Out, damned plot’ creative writing Masterclass with ‘modern-day Queen of Crime’ Vanda Symons. I’d met Vanda at WORD Christchurch last September and she’s also a Ngaio Marsh Awards judge (so of course I rate her very highly).

Someone else committing murder under Vanda’s careful instruction was fellow Ngaio Marsh Awards finalist Nikki Crutchley, who I’d also met at WORD Christchurch. We were both staying at the same old-school motel a 10-minute wander from the festival’s home and, as if we’d spent years in each other’s company instead of a couple of hours, we immediately became partners in crime for the weekend.

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Following the heaving launch of J.P. Pomare’s Call Me Evie that night, we joined Craig, Vanda, Finnish crime writer Kati Hiekkapelto and a few others on an out-of-town excursion. First stop was the quintessentially Kiwi Waiotapu Tavern where we enjoyed dinner (fish and chips, of course), beer, and games of pool.

Next, in a scene perfect for a crime novel, we drove down a dark road and pulled over by a bridge. With only the soft light from our phones to guide us, we followed a track through the bush to the river. There we were rewarded, not with being bludgeoned to death by a group of men in balaclavas, but with the sight of steam rising. The river was a natural spa – with convenient pockets of cold for when we needed cooling off! We soaked (swimming would be overstating it) under the stars, talking about crocodiles and the many other dangers we didn’t need to concern ourselves with while soaking under the stars in New Zealand (apart from, perhaps, men in balaclavas). Even for New Zealanders (and interlopers like me), it was truly magical. There are no photos (probably a good thing because not everyone remembered togs!), but it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

The river adventure was hard to top, but the pōwhiri at the Te Papaiouru Marae on Saturday morning, in which we were welcomed by the local Māori iwi, came pretty close. I’ve visited a marae before but this was my first pōwhiri at a marae. As part of the ceremony, our group was expected to sing (a requirement I’d only just learned about the night before). So if you happened to have walked past my motel room at 6am that morning, you may have heard me attempting to learn the lyrics to Te Aroha (admittedly only 4 lines) with the help of YouTube. Fortunately, mine was only one of around 40 relatively well-rehearsed voices, and the group effort sounded pretty special.

Speeches and singing were followed by a hongi (also a new experience for me) and morning tea (not so new). The whole ceremony was very moving – evoking tears in at least one person – and a fitting beginning to Rotorua Noir.

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The festival’s home was the Shambles Theatre, where panel after panel of top local and international crime writers kept us in our seats with discussions about everything from the craft of adapting crime novels to the screen to ‘rural noir’ –  thrilling tales set in the wops-wops. My only regret is not taking notes (so I could insert detail into these brackets). In between talks we bought books, signed books, pestered others to sign books, all while meeting and chatting to other writers. Among them, dressed in her ‘It’s criminal what a girl has to do…to get a good read’ t-shirt was Lindy Cameron of Clan Destine Press, my Australian publisher (and president of Australia’s Sisters in Crime). There were a few other Aussies too, some of whom are pictured below.

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Saturday night’s festivities included ‘A Question of Crime’ – a quiz hosted by Vanda Symon and Paul Cleave. Our team ‘#yeahnoir’ (named for the hashtag coined by our team member, Steph Soper) came fourth, possibly helped by the question: ‘Who coined the hashtag #yeahnoir?’. The question: ‘Who wrote the Ngaio Marsh Award finalist for best first novel, ‘Nothing Bad Happens Here’?’ was another bonus since Nikki Crutchley was also in our team. But the ‘Agatha Quizties’ were the winners and, with that name, deservedly so.

Then, suddenly, it was Sunday! After the excellent ‘Ill Winds from the North’ European crime fiction panel, it was the newbies’ turn. Vanda Symon interrogated Nathan Blackwell, Simon Wyatt (both cops in real life!), J.P. Pomare, and me in ‘New Blood’. I can’t remember much of what I said but the next day’s Rotorua Daily Post suggested I wasn’t completely clueless:

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After the first gripping instalment of Zoe Rankin’s Unknown – winner of the Rotorua Noir short story competition and now serialised on Zoe’s blog – it was time to force my oversized suitcase (now bursting with books) into an undersized Air New Zealand plane. Thank you Craig and Grant for creating the fabulous event that was Rotorua Noir. Can’t wait for the next one!

Thanks and apologies to all those whose photos I’ve stolen.

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Rotorua Noir review (Daily Post)

 

Chapter 10: Mum’s book launch, by Tilly

Guest blogger Tilly Mainwaring recalls the Sydney launch of All Our Secrets, albeit briefly and without even mentioning the author’s dress. (Her recollections morph into a book review before coming to a sudden end but, hey, she’s 10 and she’s got better things to do than her mum’s homework.)

Mum’s book launch, by Tilly

I remember walking in to a big room filled with paintings, sculptures and mirrors. It was such a blast of colour, a sight that thrills the eyes. Damien was setting up for his amazing music performance. His poor partner Nicole was meant to perform with him, like she did at the launch in NZ, but she sadly caught tonsillitis and couldn’t come.

Soon after we arrived, the guests started to arrive too. Mum actually hadn’t actually seen the real book or met her publisher in person yet so we all said hello and introduced ourselves.

Anthony was the MC so after his speech I was called up to do my speech. It was really good and I barely stammered over any words. And then Lindy (Mum’s publisher) spoke. And finally, Mum spoke and read from the book. She dedicated the Australian version to Nan.

There was food, book signing and lots of chatter.

Soon after, I read the book and I was amazed. My own mother came up with these scenarios and every word of the book. I couldn’t put it down for the few days in which I crammed every moment of spare time into reading it. I know I am only 10 years old but even though this is a crime fiction I really enjoyed it. Until I actually read it I didn’t see why it was such a big deal, but now I think that this is one of the many topics I would be very happy to grab a cup of tea and discuss. Also, after being in Cambewarra, which is what Coongahoola is meant to be like, I can connect with the book lot more than I would without being there.

Words by Tilly. Punctuation and emoticon-deletion by me.

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See more photos

Chapter 9: My weekend at WORD

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to experience WORD Christchurch. The Ngaio Marsh Awards ceremony was part of the festival and the finalists were invited to read from their books in Murder in the Chamber. I jumped at the chance to escape for a weekend, meet the other finalists, be inspired by other writers, and get out of doing the weekly grocery shopping. I wasn’t expecting to win.

My hotel was next to the Piano Bar (home of most WORD events), which was fantastic for a couple of reasons: 1. I didn’t need to rely on the Google Maps lady to find the Piano Bar. 2.  Most of the festival’s writers were also staying there, so I felt like part of the scene. Every time I caught the lift or passed through reception, I saw someone I ‘knew’. They just didn’t know me.

Because I was part of the festival, I scored a writer’s pass, which meant not only did I have an important-looking ‘Writer’ lanyard to hang around my neck (though I kept it in my bag – I’m not a show off) – I was entitled to free entry to events. Helen Clark’s Women, Equality, Power event and her rockstar reception was a highlight, as was Motherhood, a conversation between Catherine Robertson, Emily Writes and Hollie McNish over the cries and gurgles of countless babies.

On the day of the awards, after sharing the hotel gym with a Booker Prize winner (sorry, had to squeeze that in – I won’t mention his name, but he was very polite, even apologising for his squeaky treadmill), I met my publisher, Penelope Todd.  This in itself was a momentous event: our first proper face to face meeting after ‘kind of’ knowing each other – through emails and the occasional Skype – for several years. Penelope has invested so much time and energy into All Our Secrets she deserves a multitude of awards herself. My win that evening was twice as rewarding with Penelope there to share it.

Next up was a Masterclass with award-winning Glaswegian crime writer, Denise Mina, whose book, The Long Drop, was the only upside of having spent the early hours of that morning propped up against one of my hotel bed’s seven enormous pillows (its size not only prevented me from sleeping, but forced me to question, for the first time ever, the length of my neck). The Long Drop (which is also, ultimately, about a neck, not an outside loo) is a gripping read. Denise’s course, too, was captivating and inspiring. Even though I was up for a crime fiction award I still felt like an imposter in a crime writing workshop, but Denise assured us that lots of authors write crime novels by ‘accident’.

Then, somehow, it was 5pm and time to meet the other finalists. We gathered in a room I can only recall as being green (and probably only because someone called it the ‘green room’). It was a huge buzz meeting people whose faces and books I recognised from social media, and to hear that many of us will get to hang out together at the inaugural Rotorua Noir festival next year.

In Murder in the Chamber I read about the first death in All Our Secrets – of Sebastian, the kitten – the most ‘crimey’ part of my book that didn’t give anything away (apart from, of course, poor Sebastian’s life).

Then, the awards ceremony: a happy blur, partly attributed to excitement, and partly to the pre and post-Murder in the Chamber pinot noir. Awards judge, Vanda Symons kicked off proceedings before inviting A J Finn (aka Daniel Malory) to present the award for the Best First Novel. I confess I didn’t know who A J Finn was; I just thought he was a hot American guy who must’ve written something. I now know that his book, The Woman in the Window, is the biggest selling book in the world this year!

Anyway, the hot American guy announced… “the Winner of the Ngaio Marsh First Novel Award is….All Our Secrets by Jennifer Lane.” I know these were his words because he later gave me the envelope that contained them. As for what I said when he handed me the microphone, I’m not entirely sure. I hadn’t wanted to jinx my chances by preparing a speech.

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Receiving my award from international best-selling writer, AJ FINN

Denise Mina then declared Alan Carter the winner of the other, bigger, Ngaio Marsh Award (Best Crime Novel). We posed for photos, signed a stack of books, hugged everyone in sight, and I enjoyed a celebratory dinner with Penelope and her husband. It was a truly memorable night!

My only responsibility for Sunday was to meet Vanda and Alan at the Radio NZ studio for an interview with Lynn Freeman. Easier said than done. I got lost wandering through the construction site that is Christchurch’s CBD, even with the Google Maps lady bossing me around. Once I finally found the others, we realised we had the wrong address, so had to race a couple of kilometres back in the direction from which I’d wandered (despite Google Maps lady’s protests – she was ready to strangle me by then), but made it just in time. I find radio interviews slightly terrifying, and this one was live! Fortunately Vanda and Alan had plenty to say.

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Alan and me, (kind of) ready for our interview

And that ended my magic weekend. Oh yeah, there were a few All Blacks at Christchurch airport. I only knew who they were because they were being accosted for photos (though their All Blacks outfits should’ve been a giveaway). I’d spent my weekend among celebrities – the night before I was practically one myself – so I wasn’t at all fazed. Though, I confess, I did take a discrete photo, just to pass the time. The photo was blurry (such was my discretion) and I think the friend I sent it to was equally unfazed.

It was then time to fly back to reality, motherhood and grocery shopping, but also to a normal-sized pillow, and with a very special souvenir squeezed into my suitcase:

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With Vanda, Alan and RadioNZ
Vanda, Alan and me, post-interview
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Constance Talbot and me with Denise Mina at a LitCrawl event in Wellington the following week (I wasn’t stalking her)

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Read more about the awards

Hear the radio interview (I haven’t yet)

CHAPTER 8: SOMETHING TO WRITE (FROM) HOME ABOUT

Cambewarra

I’m writing this from my childhood home of Cambewarra*, where I’m spending a couple of weeks with my mum, working on my second novel (slowly), and trying not to think about the odds that the giant huntsman spider I spotted outside the front door yesterday managed to make its way inside overnight…

Another reason I’m in Cambewarra (no, not to avoid the school holidays – that’s just a coincidence) is because I’m kind of on ‘exchange’ with my younger brother Damien, who usually lives nearby but is currently in… Hollywood! He’s one of the 12 film and TV music composers from around the world selected to take part in the acclaimed ASCAP Film scoring workshop, under the guidance of Emmy-award winning composer, Richard Bellis. It’s an incredible opportunity and I’m very excited for him.

But enough about him. I’ve got news!

Firstly, All Our Secrets made Australia’s Ned Kelly Awards longlist – for Best First Crime! My publisher, Penelope Todd of Rosa Mira Books, is now busy looking at options for making All Our Secrets more widely available in Australia, something I’ve long hoped for (especially given its strong Australian setting). At the moment it’s only available as an ebook (apart from via this website). Fingers crossed this is about to change.

Then, within a week of the Ned Kellys announcement, the New Zealand equivalent – the Ngaio Marsh Awards – revealed All Our Secrets as a finalist for Best First Novel! One of the judges commented, ‘A very assured debut with some wonderfully drawn characters. This pulled me in right from the beginning.’ The winners of both awards will be announced early September.

A few other writerly things have happened since my last post (thankfully, since it was around six months ago), starting with a writing retreat on the Kapiti Coast, an indulgent weekend of workshops and discussions with a fabulous mix of writers. Inspired by the experience, Janis Freegard and myself decided to reform our writing group which, for numerous reasons, had fizzled out over the past few years. We’ve since expanded and are meeting regularly, which has been hugely motivating – and has resulted in some new writing I’m relatively happy with.

In May I braved Wellington’s ‘Murder in the library’, along with Annaleese Jochams (author of Baby) with Brannavan Gnanalingam (author of Sodden Downstream, among others) as the interrogator (pictured below).

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I survived the grilling, and a few weeks later, enjoyed the chance to ‘pitch’ All Our Secrets to other writers at the New Zealand Society of Author’s Pipitea Book Pitch. The same week I was a guest speaker at the Flash Fiction Awards in Wellington, along with Janis Freegard and Tim Jones, and chaired by Constance Talbot. It was a fun night of discussion (somehow Cambewarra got a mention!) and listening to local finalists read their stories. To me, 1,000 words is short, so I’m full of admiration for writers who can tell a great story in 300 (or less).

I’m now looking forward to reading at the WORD Christchurch writers & readers festival in September, where the winners of the Ngaio Marsh Awards will be announced, and taking part in Rotorua Noir, New Zealand’s first-ever crime and thriller writing festival, next January.

Hopefully, I’ll have more to update you on before then…

 

*Cambewarra, aboriginal for ‘mountain fire’, is on the South Coast of NSW, has a population of 238 (probably including the aforementioned huntsman spider), and just got its first ever mention in the American VARIETY magazine (thanks to Damien).

 

 

Chapter 7: The post I was meant to write on holiday

ALLOURSECRETSSUMMER

Now that I’ve been back in New Zealand for nearly two weeks, my slight holiday tan having all but disappeared (despite Wellington’s decent crack at having a summer), it’s time I started on my ‘MUST do on holiday’ list. Number 1 is “Write blog post”, so here goes:

I’m happy to say that ALL OUR SECRETS is continuing to do well, thanks to many fabulous friends spreading the word and a few generous reviews in national media.

Andrew Laxon of the New Zealand Herald reviewed the novel alongside books by Stephen King, Jennifer Egan, Robert Harris and John Le Carre, describing it as “a hugely enjoyable mash-up of small town horror and coming-of-age story, with plenty of quirky and sometimes downright weird humour thrown in.” He says some OK stuff about the other books too!

In the NZ Listener, Catherine Robertson says, “Lane pulls off two ambitious feats: creating a child narrator who is authentically pre-teen but who can hold adult reader interest and integrating a well-plotted mystery that keeps tension high and readers guessing…Highly recommended.” Thank you, Catherine!

Bookseller NZ’s Sarah Forster also highly recommends ALL OUR SECRETS “as a summer read for age 13+” and Karen Chisholm of AustCrimeFiction calls it “an absolute gem”. I couldn’t ask for more.

The Sapling published an extract (Gracie’s “unmerry Christmas”), and my voice assaulted the ears of listeners nationwide via interviews with Lynn Freeman on Radio NZ and Morrin Rout on Plains FM. No one arrested me after I was on air though, so perhaps I didn’t torment everyone else’s ears as much as I did mine.

Just as encouraging as the reviews were the many messages I received from readers. (By the way, I’m amazed by the number of people who only find time to read during the holidays. Am I the only one who prioritises reading over housework/sleep/life 365 days a year?) It’s hugely rewarding to hear that so many of my friends and family enjoyed ALL OUR SECRETS (the rest of the world would just be a bonus), so thanks to those who have said so. And if you thought the book was a load of crap and kept that to yourself, I appreciate that too!

But, sadly, the news hasn’t all been good. Two people who played a part in helping me bring ALL OUR SECRETS into the world passed away in December.

Firstly, Paul Greenberg. Paul took on the job of getting ALL OUR SECRETS into shops around New Zealand, a challenging task (I discovered) for a novel written by an unknown “New Zealand” author, especially a novel set in Australia. Paul worked in the industry for 50 years and was described as the “greatest salesman in the history of New Zealand publishing”. I never met or worked with him directly, but Penelope Todd (ALL OUR SECRETS’ publisher) says he was a delight to deal with. ALL OUR SECRETS was possibly the last book he represented.

Then there was the death of my friend and fellow writer, Sarah Anderson. During the more than ten years we were in a writing group together, we read and critiqued many of each other’s stories, including the first draft of ALL OUR SECRETS. Sarah was the most prolific writer in our group, having published a number of fiction and non-fiction collections as well as a magazine, VIOLA BEADLETON’S COMPENDIUM OF SERIOUSLY SILLY AND AMAZINGLY ASTOUNDING STORIES. She was also a talented artist and my daughter Tess was lucky enough to be tutored by her in art last year. We will miss Sarah greatly, and we’re lucky she left behind many stories, poems and artworks to remember her by. Here’s a poem she wrote about summer:

Summer

Hot so hot
In Summer
I used to love you
Summer
Sirus the cat would sit on my lap
In the summer
My girlfriend and I would seek the sun
when we lived in cold dark Vivian Street
and got no afternoon sun
but we could see it shine on the hills at Mt Vic
In the summer
We would play as children
by rivers and run through the woods while the men
played cricket in the backyard
In summer
The sky was so blue and the cicadas sang so loud,
everything was alright because it was
Summer.

Sarah Anderson

See ALL OUR SECRETS reviews and interviews

Chapter 6: Reliving the launch

Thursday, 19 October was a memorable day. Winston Peters surprised New Zealand by announcing a change of government. A friend (the same age as me) became a grandmother. It was sunny in Wellington. And All Our Secrets was finally released into the world.

Luckily, the launch turned out to be nothing like the dream version I’d had a couple of nights earlier. In my dream, a friend arrived at 6pm to find the entire venue – a grim, grotty student flat, don’t ask me why – empty apart from several drunk people comatose in the corners.

In the real version everyone showed up*, the venue was Meow (as planned), and instead of drunks, the corners were occupied by stuffed kangaroos, fitting décor for the launch of a novel with a distinctly Australian setting. The evening was unseasonably warm (also fitting), and the buzz of Winston’s impending announcement added to the atmosphere. Just as with a wedding, all the dramas of the lead-up, including a passport going AWOL and a last-minute flight change, were soon forgotten.

Sixty-five or so wonderful people filled the venue, including our wedding celebrant, come to think of it, and friends from everywhere I’ve worked in Wellington, probably excited by the prospect of me writing about something more compelling than income protection insurance or a proven treatment for mastitis in cows. My mum, aunty and cousin had travelled from Australia as had my brothers and sister-not-quite-in-law. Even my former writers group was there, reunited for the first time in five years, and better still, making plans to reform.

The evening’s soundtrack was provided by my brother Damien and his partner Nicole (of the missing passport), with a special live performance I wish I could have paid more attention to. In homage to the Bagooli River, which runs through All Our Secrets’ fictional town of Coongahoola, they based their playlist around a river theme, playing classics like Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren and PJ Harvey’s Down by the Water.

My other brother Anthony (whose last-minute flight wasn’t delayed by fog, earthquake, or locusts, all possibilities I’d considered) did a great job MCing and speaking on behalf of publisher, Penelope Todd; Catherine Robertson delivered a very flattering speech (thank you again, Catherine); and I read from All Our Secrets without tripping over the words or the stage.

I spent the rest of the evening sitting alongside the two friendly Unity Books sales girls, signing books (in my terrible childish scrawl, sorry) for those who bought one (and, in my daughter’s case, those who didn’t. Tess snuck along her own copy from home, just so she could join the book-signing queue.)

A couple of weeks have passed since that night, but the excitement has continued with a constant stream of messages from people who are reading the book. A friend’s 13-year-old daughter even wrote a report about All Our Secrets for English, concluding “I recommend All Our Secrets to people who are interested in a murder mystery or just because you need a good book to read”. Thank you, Emily!

Thanks, too, to everyone who joined me at Meow and made the launch so memorable, to anyone who has shared their thoughts on All Our Secrets, and to those who bought a copy and helped push it up to number 2 on the NZ fiction bestsellers’ list last week.

I guess I’d better get cracking on the next one…

* Except Sean O. He waited to hear Winston Peters’ announcement before rocking up, bursting with excitement, around 7pm.

Check out the launch photos
More launch photos
Buy All Our Secrets now (ebook or paperback)

Nicole and Damien

Chapter 5: Counting down to the launch

It’s been an exciting few weeks – holding the novel for the first time (a real book, not just a wad of double-spaced A4 pages splattered with ink from our ageing printer), being interviewed by Lynn Freeman at Radio NZ, Unity Books saying they’ll sell at the launch, hearing that All Our Secrets will be reviewed in The Listener…. And then, last week, turning on my radio, out of the blue, just in time to catch the book’s first ever review (listen to it here).

And with only five days to go, I’m now nearing the end of my pre-launch to-do list (getting dangerously close to ‘clean the house!’ – the exclamation mark emphasising how desperately this needs doing before my family arrives from Oz).

But before I do anything drastic like the vacuuming, I need to mention another important part of my long journey: the Wellington Writers Group. I’m pretty sure there’s another group with the same name now, but Wellington Writers Group was what we called ourselves without knowing (or caring) whether another more official group existed.

We met once a month to say (mostly) nice things about each other’s work, and once a year we headed up the coast for a weekend retreat. We’d explore the beach, cook feasts, drink wine, let off fireworks (not because we were pyromaniacs, but because our inaugural retreat was on Guy Fawkes night) and, if there were a few spare minutes between unpacking and heading home, we’d write.

Our meetings were a big source of inspiration, a monthly deadline hugely motivating, and I really valued the feedback of everyone in the group. I probably wouldn’t have stuck with this novel if it wasn’t for their encouragement and support.

The photo below is the Wellington Writers Group in its original form – Janis, Sarah, me, Chris, Niamh and Mark – at our first retreat in Foxton, late 2005 or whenever flarey jeans were last in. Although we definitely devoted more time to eating than writing, I’d like to point out that I was pregnant at the time, not full from lunch.

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I won’t get around to posting again before the launch, so I hope to see you there…

Chapter 4: The publishing journey

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I was born in the wrong era. Once upon a time publishers bought manuscripts for ludicrous sums and paid equally ludicrous advances. Why can’t I have launched my writing career in those days? Even if I was forced to wear a corset while writing and had to publish under the pseudonym ‘George’, at least the publishing industry was thriving and companies welcomed new authors. (Well, at least this is my impression of those days.)

One good thing about today’s era is Google. Given that my novel is set in a fictional Australian town, it seemed logical to try my luck in my motherland first. A few hours’ googling taught me:

  1. Many publishers won’t stoop to considering your manuscript if you don’t have an agent.
  2. Many agents won’t stoop to considering new authors.

I soldiered on nonetheless and eventually, hooray, found an agent in Melbourne who did take on new authors. Even better, she was willing to accept me – on the provision that I reworked my novel to make it more ‘young adult’. So after a few deep breaths and a lot of swearing, I began work on another, more young-adulty draft under the guidance of an amazingly talented person known only to me then as The Reader (she later revealed herself as the young adult fiction writer, Emily Gale. Fortunately, I was happy with the results – and so was the agent.

The moment the agent offered me a contract was one of extreme excitement. My jump of jubilation caused my daughters, who were downstairs from me at that moment, to drop into ‘turtle position’ (something they’re well rehearsed in doing in the event of an earthquake). I finally had an agent! The hard work was over. My novel was in a professional’s capable hands now. All I had to do was wait….

…and wait

…and wait.

I received a lot of positive feedback, but sadly, no takers. ‘Young adult fiction’ publishers thought the novel wasn’t ‘YA enough’. So the agent focussed on ‘Adult fiction’ publishers. Nope. It’s ‘more of a YA novel’. Aghhhh!

After two up-and-down years (during which I started and completed the first draft of my second novel), I stopped crossing my fingers. Once again, I turned to my NZSA mentor, Penelope Todd of Rosa Mira Books, for advice. She came to the rescue by reinstating her offer of publication, later going one step further by offering to bring out a hard copy version as well as an ebook.

So that’s how I got to where I am today. It’s been a heartbreaking process, but I’ve learned a lot along the way – from Penelope and Emily (and Google) – and believe that my manuscript is better because of it. Is it ‘young adult’ or ‘adult’ fiction? I don’t know. All I know is I wrote what I wanted to write (albeit several times) and if someone enjoys reading it, the long long journey will have been worthwhile.

CHAPTER 3: LOSING THE PLOT

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…