At first glance, you wouldn’t think books and babies had much in common, but, believe me, they do, as anyone who’s ever done both will attest.
Anne Buist is a psychiatrist and the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. She has thirty years of clinical and research experience in perinatal psychiatry, including forensic work.
Anne’s also written three psychological thrillers, Medea’s Curse, Dangerous to Know, and This I Would Kill For, as well as a joint romantic comedy, feel-good, mid-age novel, Two Steps Forward, with her husband of thirty years, Graeme Simsion. There’s a sequel in progress, Two Steps Onwards.
Anne’s latest novel, The Long Shadow (Text Publishing, April 2020), is a standalone rural thriller about old sins and long shadows, and dealing with the past before you can face the future. It’s also about motherhood and being the parent you want to be.
Now Breathe and Push
Books are a lot like babies.
Well, with respect to babies, I’m not going to go into details, even though I got my ten thousand hours practice writing erotica under a pseudonym. Let’s just say there’s a lot of fun.
It can take a while to conceive a book. The idea sits there, sometimes for months or years. It twists and turns, then things fall into place.
I have two books currently underway, but in the back of my mind is a novel I wrote over twenty years ago that got rejected at the last hurdle with Random House. It’s a drama and I’ve added in a murder and am letting it marinate.
The Long Shadow, my latest book, took two years. Issy, my main character, changed and so did the ending although I always knew exactly what the climax would be.
With babies it’s best to do this before conception but, even afterwards, there’s a lot to be organised: Time off? Income? Nursery? Bottles, prams, car seats? The list goes on.
It’s pretty complicated for books too. I’m a planner, as opposed to letting the story go where it takes me. My husband studied screenwriting and, sometimes, certainly with our joint books, I use his card system. I have a card for each scene, which I move around. Mostly I write the story scene-by-scene and do the cutting and pasting on computer. With the drama I’m thinking of converting to a murder-mystery, there are two parallel timelines with different numbering systems that I’m mixing and matching.
Okay, worst-case scenario with a baby is a twenty-four hour labour, and, if trouble strikes, there’s always a Caesarian option.
But labour with a book is hard, hard stuff that can take a lot longer than nine months, let alone just twenty-four hours.
With a baby, the one you conceive is the one you get, along with some cute but slightly weird pictures to help you envisage the end result.
With a book, what you start with may be nothing like what you finish up with. And after eight re-writes it can feel like you’ve had octuplets.
The actual delivery:
No gas, anaesthetic or helpful midwife. Maybe an annoyed publisher (This is April, not February). You have to cut the umbilical cord and handover to someone. And wait. No gradual weaning, but straight for the cabbage leaves (which don’t work). Sometimes writers don’t have anyone to deliver it to and sit through months of rejections. How would you feel if everyone, other than your family and friends, took a look at junior and said he looked a bit Cabbage Patch?
Being a Parent:
With kids there’s a lifetime of joy and worry, adorable smiles and things they do better than anyone on the planet. There’s also watching them be bullied or have no friends and, as a parent, there’s nothing much you can do about it.
Pretty much the same with Goodreads and Amazon reviews. Why didn’t this idiot realise? Didn’t they read it properly? What did they mean the character I worked hardest on is shallow? And isn’t she kind of like me?
Same motto for parents and writers: Bolster up what you have—support your child, write a better book, and remember not everyone likes everyone, nor do all people like all books. Even the best books get one-star ratings.
Yes, books are a lot like having kids. You love them more than anyone else and, like kids, you watch them go out into the world knowing someone will get something from them.
Fortunately for readers, the pain is all the authors, and the enjoyment is theirs.
The Long Shadow might be a good choice for you if:
- Youi like easy-reading page-turners that increases in pace towards a fast-thriller climax
- You want to escape to a country town—the town of Riley is definitely a character in this book
- You like to tease out and understand dynamics between people
- You have ever attended a mother-baby group and remember what it was like to have a young child
- You are fascinated by how our childhoods shape us
- You like watching the impact of small-town secrets
It’s probably not for you if you want a crime procedural—my heroine is a psychologist, athough a cop as a key character. It’s probably not for you if you want blood and gore—there is none as my dad was a pathologist!