Last Thursday, after an agonising three-and-a-half month wait, the winner of the 2014 City of Fremantle-TAG Hungerford Award was announced at Fremantle Arts Centre.
The winner was ‘Troppo’, by Madelaine Dickie, which will be published next year. ‘Troppo’ is set in Indonesia, and explores Australian and Indonesian relationships. It sounds as if it will be an exciting read, and especially relevant given the tension between the two countries at the moment.
Although my novel, ‘Ida’s Children’, didn’t win, my first reaction after the announcement was relief—finally, the wait was over and I could make plans. I don’t know about the other shortlistees, but I felt as if I’d been in limbo for three-and-a-half months, unable to edit my novel or send it out to other publishers. Once the decision was announced, at least I could move forward again, and get started on ‘Plan B’.
I must admit, once the relief—and the three champagnes I drank afterwards—wore off, I felt a little deflated, although I’m getting used to feeling like that in this business. On each page of my novel, I’d tried my hardest, and put in the best effort I could, yet it obviously wasn’t enough to get me over the line.
At first, I chastised myself for feeling disappointed: I’ve had to cope with much bigger disappointments, tragedies even—the sudden death of my sister in a car accident, and the premature loss of my father from dementia—and I knew this was relatively minor in the scheme of things.
But in the end, I simply gave myself permission to feel disappointed and let it come as it needed to. I allowed myself a little crisis of confidence:
I’m not cut out for this.
I’m a middle-aged woman who’s never written before, what on earth made me think I could do it?
My story’s already been told a million times …
It’s just a boring tale told by a boring woman …
And it passed, as I knew it would, and perspective returned. I started to see the positives and that being shortlisted was only a good thing: it means my story at least has the makings of a good novel.
This is life and we can’t script it. Not everything turns out as we’d like it to—and how boring would it be if it did? I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, but we can’t always see the reason at the time. It took many years for the good things that came from my sister’s death to gradually unfurl, for example.
I’ve learnt that what might seem like a disappointment at the time, often just means it’s not meant to be—it’s either not the right time; or it’s not what I’m meant to be doing; or it’s because something better is waiting in the wings. It might take years for the reason to reveal itself; or it might be waiting just around the corner.
On Wednesday night, I went to Koorliny Arts Centre to hear Brooke Davis speak about her novel, ‘Lost and Found’ (which I reviewed here). She told us that when her publisher read her book, she immediately phoned Brooke’s friend and said, ‘If I don’t get to publish this book, I’ll cry’.
That’s what I want—I want someone to read ‘Ida’s Children’ and ring me up and say, ‘I loved your book and if I don’t publish it, I’ll cry’.
Maybe that’s too much to hope for, but maybe it’s not. I hope I missed out on this award because there’s someone else waiting for ‘Ida’s Children’, someone wanting a book like mine to arrive on their desk.
Maybe, I’ve missed out because ‘Ida’s Children’ isn’t quite ready. Maybe it’s a matter of taking a little more time to work on it, to dig a little deeper and bring out that something special in it. Maybe I’ve just got to bring out my polishing cloth and shine that nugget I know is at its core, so that someone will love it just as much as I do.
Yesterday, I didn’t feel like doing much, so I tucked myself away with Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’ and read the messages of support and encouragement as they came in. Thank you to everyone who emailed or messaged or commented on Facebook—the messages were like an embrace each time my computer went ‘ding’ and kept me buoyant.
By last night, I already felt better and couldn’t wait to get back to Ida and make a start on ‘Plan B’. So I did—that’s how I spent my Friday night, up in the attic with Ida and the kids, reading and revising!
I’m not going to give up writing, nor am I going to give up on Ida, not yet anyway. I believe in my book. I’m going to take the validation that this shortlisting has given me and run with it. I can write submissions to agents and publishers saying that ‘Ida’s Children’ has won me a Varuna residency and a shortlisting for the 2014 Hungerford Award. Hopefully these commendations will help give my story a leg up and onto a publisher’s desk.
I don’t know what’s in Ida’s future, but I’ll just keep trying to ride the highs and flow with the lows until my book finds a home. I’ve only sent it to a couple of places so far, and I’ll need a wad of rejections before I give up.
Someone is waiting for Ida and the kids—I’ve just got to be patient.
Here is an excerpt from ‘Ida’s Children’, read by Kate Hall at the Award announcement. (Thank you, Kristen Levitzke, for the recording.)
And here are a couple photos from the night.
This is a beautiful and honest post, Louise. I’m sorry you got pipped at the post this time. In my heart of hearts, I really do believe that good work finds the right home when it’s ready. I’ve had poems knocked back from one editor only to have another overjoyed by how nicely my voice or theme fit a particular issue. It’s all about making the work the best that you can and then getting it out there again and again so that the person looking for it can find it! Good luck with the next round of submissions. 🙂
You’re so right, Nicole. I believe that I’ll look back on this one day and think, ‘It’s good that I didn’t win that award,’ because something better will happen because I didn’t. You’re right, too, this is a subjective business, and different editors and publishing houses have different tastes. Also, and I didn’t write about this in the post, but the shortlisted books are all so different—it’s like comparing apples with shoes, so I’m not going to compare my book with any of the others.
Thanks for your comment!
There is always hope, I truly honestly believe it will happen x
I still believe it, too, Rae. Fingers crossed …
I agree with Wordmothers that this is so beautiful and honest. And you did the right thing, acknowledging your disappointment and letting it pass through you. So often we push those feelings down. But don’t dismiss the fact that you achieved something marvellous – being shortlisted for such a prestigious award is an amazing accomplishment, and I do believe your work will find the home that’s right for it. That’s the hardest part about writing, keeping going – at least I think so. Self doubt comes easily when you work alone – I know I struggle with it as well but my belief in my work and the stories I can feel waiting to be told keep me going on those days when I wake up and wonder what the hell I’m doing. So good luck, fingers, toes and legs crossed for your next round of submissions! I’m also entering the fray again with a new book called ‘A Thousand Rooms’ – I’ll be back on the submission trail with it soon so hopefully we can commiserate and celebrate together 🙂 xx
Self doubt does come easily because you bare your soul all over the page, and then you’re rejected! It’s certainly an industry that keeps you grounded, if nothing else!
Good luck with your new book. I think you’re a talented writer, Helen, and I have no doubt that you will make it one day!
Thank you Louise – and I return the sentiment! Looking forward to seeing Ida’s Children in print one day xx
One day, we’ll get together and toast seeing them on the shelves! x
Yes, that would be lovely! x
It’s a date!
Another lovely, honest post Louise. I think many of us know exactly how you feel – not because we’ve had a book be shortlisted and not win (and wow, what an achievement it is, as I know you know, to have written a book and got to be shortlisted for a significant award) but because we’ve had other sorts of rejections and felt it meant we weren’t good enough etc etc. But, just like you’re doing, we pick ourselves up and get on with it. I do hope you keep working on Ida and find a publisher for her.
(BTW I have never met Madelaine Dickie, but I had heard via Facebook that she’d won because I have known her partner since he was a few months old – via his mother with whom I was in a playgroup, babysitting club and reading group. So, of course, there’s excitement in our neck of the woods – and I feel sad to also be feeling/seeing the other side. x)
It’s true, Sue, you don’t have to be shortlisted to feel disappointed. It’s the same feeling when a boyfriend rejects you for another girl, or when they choose someone else for a job. And yes, we feel it, then pick ourselves up and move forwards.
PS. It’s a small world, isn’t it, that you know Madelaine’s boyfriend’s mother—six degrees of separation as they say!
Yes, they were the very sorts of examples i was thinking of. Athletes too, when they make the final then don’t win, or don’t medal. And yes, it’s an amazingly small world sometimes.
Yes, I think it’s hard not to take it personally, as if they’re rejecting you, because of how much of yourself you reveal when you write. I remember a boyfriend dumping me just before an Australian Crawl concert, and then, as I stood in the mosh pit trying to sing and sway with the music, I saw his arms linked around another girl about two people away from me! I laugh now, but I felt very put out at the time! Anyway, I think the feeling is similar …
I bet you did! All life’s lessons I suppose …
Exactly. Luckily disappointment is a part of life as it helps us appreciate the good!
That reading left me gob-smacked. I loved it. Well done.
It was magical to hear someone read my words out loud! She did a great job, and as an aside, the actor had been a teacher’s aide when our daughter was in early primary school and taught her. And was always kind, I might add.
Thanks, Maureen 🙂
Such a wonderful post, Louise, and I love your honesty. Even as a published author, I know those feelings so well. What I know is that those feelings of disappointment are not only normal, but they drive us to keep going and search out that success. I have no doubt that you’ll see your book in print and will be there at the launch x
Thanks, Dawn! Life would be pretty boring if we always got what we wanted, exactly when we wanted it, wouldn’t it? Takes all the surprise out of it! And I’ll hold you to your promise, and keep a look out for you at the launch!
Louise! Awards and the giving out of is ALWAYS subjective. The bottom line is, what are people going to read? I wouldn’t read a book about Indonesia and its relationship with Australia as it holds absolutely no interest for me. I know it must be an excellent book or it wouldn’t have won an award. The fact you were short listed means yours was excellent too and and now you have a leg up when you approach publishers, I’d read Ida’s Children because the subject matter appeals to me. Congratulations to both you and Madelaine.
Thanks, Michelle. This is why we need a wide variety of books—to satisfy all tastes! I already had you on my list of prospective purchasers of ‘Ida’s Children’ when it’s published, and I’m holding you to your word!
Lovely as always, your writing and your perspective. Celebrate your achievements and look forward to what will be xx
Thanks, Rashida. I look forward to celebrating yours soon, too …
On so many levels, bravo Louise. Of all your memories of that night, I hope the one that stays with you will be the reading of your work. It showcased the power of your words. Listen to it often, you’re that good!
You’re a beautiful friend, Penny, and thank you so much for these words. On a lighter note, I read the same passage to a writers’ group today, but from my mouth they didn’t quite have the power Kate Hall did when she read them on Thursday night. I think I’ll stick to my day job! x
Wow Louise, you are so evolved. I can’t believe how quickly you were able to regain your positive perspective on this. It’s clear you’re going to handle the ups and downs of the writing life with grace and poise. You should be proud of yourself, both for the shortlisting, and for the way you took the disappointment in stride. Onward and upward!
“Evolved” Love that Annabel. You’re right, she is!
Oh Sue, I wish you were my mum!
Thanks, Annabel, but you know what it’s like and you’ve bounced back, too. And I’m nearly fifty—if I haven’t ‘evolved’ by now, then I never will. Life can deal some pretty hard knocks at times, from which you just have to bounce back if you want to get where you want to go.
Louise, I’ve just finished editing an interview with Patricia Wood that made me think of you as she talks about how she decided to get serious about her writing and really make it happen after she turned 50. Keep an eye out for it sometime next week – I think you’ll find it cheering!
I want to meet her! I’ll definitely look out for your interview. A friend sent me an interview with Annie Proulx, who was of similar age when she started writing. She’s done all right for herself!
Louise, I am so proud of you. I feel that our little group was being put to the “test.” Always remember that a rejection is only one opinion. I truly believe that Ida will make it in a big way with the right people. You are talented and Ida displays that talent beatifully. This was one award and you did well with it. Love and hugs and success.
Thanks, Betty 🙂 I’ve been busy since the weekend, preparing to find a home for Ida! Thanks for your encouraging words. 🙂