I’ve been tagged by two writers to join in a blog hop about writing and the writing process:
Laurie Steed is a short story writer and Patricia Hackett Prize winning author from Perth, Western Australia. His work has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Age, Meanjin, Westerly, Island, and elsewhere. He has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from Rosebank, Varuna, The University of Iowa and The Fellowship of Writers (WA), and in April 2014, became the first Australian writer to be granted fellowship in the history of the Sozopol Fiction Seminars.
Caroline McMahon blogs about life as a wife and mother of two teenage boys at Mumorable Moments. She lives in Perth and trained as a Registered Nurse and Midwife. She’s a co-director of Caroline’s Angels, Baby Sleep Specialists. She published her first book ‘Blue Hydrangeas – A Midwife’s Memoirs’ earlier this year.
Now down to business …
1. What am I working on?
I’ve been working on my novel, ‘Ida’s Children’, since 2012 and it’s now at the sixth draft stage.
The story follows the lives of two sisters, each of whom must give up on a dream. It’s a story about children and music and beauty, and unfulfilled dreams.
Although I started writing it earnestly in 2012, it comes from a short story I wrote in 2010. Since then, the plot has changed so much that the story is barely recognisable. It’s also grown by over 80,000 words. But the characters have stayed the same—same names, same personalities. I wrote the short story in the third person, but changed to first person for the novel. I wrote about 50,000 words in one voice and set it mainly in the 1950’s and 60’s. It was going okay, but hadn’t really taken hold of me as I’d hoped, so I thought I’d add another first person narrator, this one younger and set in contemporary times. I wrote about 35,000 words in her voice. I thought by combining the two voices, I might have a story …
One of the scenes had the modern character in conversation with a much older character, Ida. It turned out, Ida had a lot to say. I couldn’t shut her up. I felt myself sinking into her story, the story of this family’s origins. Initially, she talked about what happened in the 1940’s, but then she wanted to go back even further, back to the 1920’s and talk about her own childhood. I had to let her—I loved what she had to say and I was having fun writing it. I knew, then, that I’d found the narrator of my story …
At the time, I was doing an online writing course through a school based in New York. When I submitted my 5,000 words for feedback, the other students loved Ida, even if they didn’t know the words ‘woop-woop’ and ‘cockie’.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Because I’m yet to approach publishers, I don’t know into which genre ‘Ida’s Children’ fits. It’s mainstream, not literary, but it is character-driven. It’s told in a very conversational Australian style, and centres around the women in the story. I hope, however, that its theme is universal and will appeal to lots of readers.
3. Why do I write what I do?
The simple answer is that I write what comes up for me. Sometimes I don’t know what that is until I start writing. I used to try to stay on topic, but now I let myself go where the writing wants to go. I know when I’ve hit the target because my pulse quickens or I start crying, and I think ‘Aha! This is what I want to say.’ Of course, it bears no resemblance to the topic with which I started, but that’s one of the miracles of writing. It’s how I discover a truth.
If I’m worried about something, that tends to bubble to the surface first and I have to write about it to get it out of the way. If I’m writing a blog post, I’ve learned not to press Publish when it’s still raw. I have a few posts sitting in my Drafts folder that I couldn’t publish, not yet, for that reason. Not until the anger or rawness has settled and my mind has had a chance to make sense of it. It means that my blogs are a censored version of life, but that’s how it is for most bloggers I suspect.
My childhood memories used to sit at the forefront of my brain, jumping up and down calling out, ‘Me first, me first,’ whenever they saw the blank page. Every time I sat to write, that’s what came out. It doesn’t anymore. The memories seem to have moved from that centre-front position and settled into a row at the back. A lot of the rawness has dissipated and with that has come an emotional distance. The young Louise has said all that she wants to say for the moment …
4. How does my writing process work?
Very chaotically. It comes when it comes. I write most days and I’m writing more than I ever have. But what comes up on any particular day depends on what else is going on in my life—with the kids; if a blog post is due; if I’m at a tricky point in the novel; if I’m having a bad day. Sometimes I plan to work on a particular thing but on the day something else wants to be written, so I write that instead. I’d like to be able to plan and be more organised but then I think the writing might lose something, some of its energy perhaps …
Writing this novel has been like trekking through virgin bush with no track or map, at night without a torch. Initially, I wrote a plan as I like to be able to see where I’m going. I soon deviated from that, so I revised it, only to branch off again. I’ve experimented a lot—letting a scene unfold in a certain way, then another. Or allowing a character to react one way, then differently. I wrote it all down in notebooks and they show the evolution of my novel: when and how a particular idea first came, like a good sentence, or a concept, or at times a whole scene; when I felt stuck and experimented with scenarios; and when I found a solution and circled it with a big ‘YES!’ next to it.
This novel is not autobiographical but there’s much more of me in it than I ever realised at the time of writing. There’s probably much more than I realise even now. In writing it, I really tried to go where the writing took me, trusting that my subconscious self knew more about the story than my conscious self did.
Fingers crossed it did!
And now for the fun part where I tag two other writers to participate in this blog hop:
Iris Lavell has degrees in English, Psychology, and Theatre and Drama Studies, a teaching qualification, and a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature. She has written four one-act plays, which have been produced and performed in Perth, with one travelling to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe in 1999. In 2008 she was runner-up in the Short Story section of the Trudy Graham Literary Award and her stories have been published in the anthologies, Thirst and An Alphabetic Amulet. As an actor, she performed in more than forty plays through Kaff Theatre, the Collective Unconscious Theatre Company, the Blue Room, and Murdoch University. She has worked for many years as a psychologist, in a range of fields, but most often in the area of vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities. She published her first novel, Elsewhere in Success, in 2013.
Felicity Young was born in Germany and attended boarding school in the UK while her parents travelled the world with the British army. She thinks the long boring plane trips home played an important part in helping her to develop her creative imagination. Felicity settled with her parents in Western Australia in 1976, became a nurse, married young and had three children. Not surprisingly, it took ten years to complete an Arts degree (English lit) at UWA. In 1990 Felicity and her family moved to a small farm 40 kilometers NE of Perth where she established a Suffolk sheep stud, reared orphan kangaroos and embarked upon a life of crime writing. She has eight published novels, her most recent being ‘The Scent of Murder’, her third book in the Dodi McLelland series.
Great work, Louise, I can’t wait to sell Ida’s Children at the shop.
How I hope that one day I see it on your shelf, Em!
I got a bit spooked at the part about it starting as a short story, and 80,000 words later… you have Ida’s Children. That happened to me with Fairway. It was 3000 words, and then it grew. And it grew in first person. (More spookiness). Good luck – great to read more about you here.
It’s funny how a story ‘grows’, like knitting …
I’m looking forward to reading your Fairway. Just reading ‘Gilgamesh’ by Joan London and ‘Questions of Travel’ by Michelle de Kretser at the moment, before I treat myself to a romance!
Loved reading about your writing process, Louise. Writers seem to work in so many different ways. Thank you for sharing. I too, look forward to having a copy of Ida’s Children in my hands in the near future.
I’d love to read about your writing process, Maureen. Yours is probably a lot more ordered than mine …
I am trying my hardest to make ‘Ida’s Children’ a real book one day …
Wow, I loved reading your writing process and how it has evolved, thanks Louise x
Thanks, Rae, as always for your constant support. It is so much appreciated.
What a great idea hopping to other people’s blogs! I loved the questions; they certainly were thought -provoking.
Thanks for sharing your writing process,.Louise it was a fascinating glimpse into your writing life.
Good luck with draft number 6.
(I am really looking forward to seeing Ida’s Children in print.)
Thanks, Penny. ‘Blog-hopping’ is fun! Makes it a lot less lonely! These questions were good ones, weren’t they? Fun to answer, and nice to be able to write about the work-in-progress. Thanks for your constant support and I am trying to my hardest to make Ida’s Children worthwhile seeing in print!
Thanks so much for sharing your writing process Louise. Love where you compare it to tracking through virgin bush with no track or map.And no light at night. It certainly can be a chaotic, blind leading the blind businesses ,particularly in the early stages of putting a novel together. Ida’s Children sounds like it’s going to be a great read! Looking forward to its publication!
Thanks, Marlish, as always. You’re so encouraging and supportive to all of us fledgling writers!
Writing this novel is very much feeling your way in the dark, as you know. Does it get any easier the second time around? Maybe the experience of writing the first novel helps a bit, but it’s still returning to staring at a blank page again!
I so hope someone will publish Ida’s Children. I’m not going to lie: I’ll be devastated if they don’t …
PS. Aren’t you away on a writers’ retreat?
Have faith that Ida’s Children will be published!
As for getting easier, well in some ways, yes, as you’ve learned to understand the process. You understand that to get any novel written and finished that you must front up at your desk every day and write. Just write. Doesn’t matter if you think its crap or whatever. Just write and the better writing will come with subsequent drafts. That’s such an important lesson to learn. But also personally for myself I’ve learn , and a hard lesson it’s been, to not rush , to not short change my writing. To take my time. Moira McKinnon as been a huge help in getting me to slow down, develop characters and story more etc. And I leave for Beverley soonish. Keep writing, Louise, because you’re damn good at it kid! 🙂
Thanks, Marlish. You are right about fronting up each day and writing. Sometimes, I hit the pot of gold after writing a heap of crappy words. Other times, I don’t. But the seed has been planted—it just might take a few more drafts to sprout.
I need to learn a lesson about taking time, too. Giving the story and the words space to breathe and come to life. I have no deadline except for the one I’ve made myself, but I just want it finished!
I love your description of trekking through virgin bush without a torch as being similar to writing your book. I admire you greatly for your passion and perseverance Louise 🙂
Writing a novel sure felt like trekking through unchartered territory! Glad to have come out the other side, although I suspect the path I’ve made isn’t as straight as it should be. Hopefully, will straighten with more editing!
Thanks again for your encouragement!
‘I loved what she had to say and I was having fun writing it’ – that is the part we all strive for. So much of writing can feel like a slog, but when it feels like fun, that is the magic part that makes it all worthwhile.
With regards to trekking in virgin bush:
Did you go to the session at PWF this year where Geraldine Mellett opened the session with a quote about writing from EL Doctorow: Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
Jeet Thayil said for him, writing is more like getting into a boat at night and heading out into the open seas, with no idea where you’re going.
So, you’re not alone. For me, the 2nd book was much easier.
All the best with your final drafts for Ida’s Children – I hope you find a home for it.
Thanks, Annabel. I hope people enjoy Ida’s voice as much as I enjoyed writing in her voice. I’m at the point where I’ve read it too much and too often, and all I see and hear are clunky sentences, so I’m putting it aside for awhile …
I didn’t attend the PWF session, but I’ve know the Doctorow statement and love it! That’s exactly the way I feel, just writing with no idea where I was headed but somehow getting to the end. It amazes me how the process works, and how you always seem to know when you’ve reached the end!
I’m glad writing Book #2 was easier—hope it will be for me, too!