A couple of months’ ago, I came across a hilarious blog post, First thoughts reading my first draft, on Alyssa Mackay’s website. It had me in stitches, so I browsed Alyssa’s other posts and saw she wasn’t a one-hit wonder—there were other entertaining posts, like this one on similes. So I messaged Alyssa and asked if she’d be interested in writing a piece for Writers in the Attic. She accepted, thankfully, and here it is. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Alyssa Mackay is a writer, blogger and reviewer. She is currently working on her first novel, The Princess Murders, a mystery set in a semi-rural Queensland town. Alyssa works full time in a professional human resources role and squeezes in writing time in the evenings and on weekends. A licensed private investigator, Alyssa currently lives in Brisbane with her husband and their wacky rescue cat Lorenzo. She loves old buildings, is skilled at reaching the top shelf at the supermarket and spends too much time adding clothing to online shopping carts without checking out.
Alyssa Mackay: Me, Myself & Author
When Alyssa Mackay decided to become a writer, she thought her flair for spelling and understanding of sentence structure would set her on the right path to becoming a prolific novelist. But she’s about to realise it will take more than a thesaurus and a Distinction in a Year 12 English Competition to churn out a bestseller.
1980-something. As a little girl, Alyssa attends a school camp in bushland north-west of Sydney. Loath to participate in physical activities like abseiling, swimming and orienteering, Alyssa is overjoyed when the camp counsellor invites the children to play a word game. They are asked to choose an adjective beginning with the same letter as their first name, one that best describes them, and then pair it with their first name. The task is easy for Alyssa, who loves writing imaginative stories about horses, best friends and ghosts. She knows instantly, and ‘Authoress Alyssa’ is born.
But by the time she reaches high school, the fancies of her childhood have been replaced with practical issues—getting good grades, choosing the right university degree and finding a decent job.
2016. Nearly thirty years later, Alyssa finds her way back to creative writing and is penning the first draft of her mystery novel, The Princess Murders. It’s an idea that’s been floating around the edges of her right brain for many years—a mystery about a clique of high school mean girls being bumped off and their deaths staged to look like well-known scenes from fairy tales. So she’s downloaded Scrivener and finally put fingertips to keyboard. But despite her initial intentions to ‘just write whatever’, she soon realises that’s not going to be enough for her. Alyssa wants to make this the best story it can be. And to do that, she is going to need help.
When Alyssa enrols in the Year of the Novel, an online course run by the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, her life is changed forever. Under the tutelage of bestselling writer, Natasha Lester, Alyssa learns about intriguing concepts—inciting incidents, midpoint reversals and the best place for backstory. She meets other writers in the course who have amazing ideas for stories. Soon she is addicted, enrolling in writing course after writing course, becoming involved in the online writing community and developing a website with a blog where she reviews books and talks about her thoughts on writing.
But writing a novel is harder than she thought it would be. The words don’t flow the way she expected them to and the scenes she’s written don’t sound anything like Agatha Christie, Liane Moriarty or any of the latest debut novels she reads. She sits at her laptop each night plagued with self-doubt. Can she really do this? Will anyone care about her little cosy mystery? Will her friends think she’s lost the plot?
After workshopping the first chapter and synopsis of The Princess Murders, Alyssa throws caution to the wind and enters a competition. She is shocked to discover she’s been shortlisted and realises that despite the lack of masterful similes and overuse of the words ‘nodded’ and ‘glanced’ in her manuscript, maybe she isn’t an imposter after all. But her burst of confidence is short-lived. She reads her first draft and is forced to acknowledge there is still more to learn—and she won’t stop until she has absorbed all of the knowledge.
Will Alyssa finish rewriting and editing her novel before her hair turns grey? Will she ever craft the perfect simile? Would she have been better off choosing ‘Astronaut Alyssa’? One thing is for certain, she’s not going to get anywhere without a positive attitude, a strong work ethic and a determination to stay grounded.
‘A gripping tale of one writer’s journey from spelling bees to similes,’ – The Page
‘I would option this story for a television series starring Nicole Kidman,’ – Reese Witherspoon’s distant relative*
*may not actually be related
If you’d like to share your story in Writers in the Attic, please contact me. As you can see from the stories already posted, the essays can be presented any way you like, and I don’t mind what you write about, so long as it’s to do with writing.
I’m booking into October, so if you’d like to squeeze in a post before the end of the year, please send it in soon!
600-1000 words is a good length, and I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces by sending a small gift as a thank you.
If you have any questions or would like more information, feel free to contact me.