I needed a reprint: the last reprint of ‘Loose Ends’, the first novel in my Annie Bryce series, ran out and the original files were no longer available. Orders are still trickling in, though, so perhaps, I thought, I should produce a revised edition. After all there were a few errors in the first edition, which should at least be corrected. So I reread the book for the first time for years. It was first published in 2006, and of course written a couple of years earlier. How technology has changed in that time!
So here’s the dilemma: how far should an author go in a revised edition? Should I attempt to update the whole text where technology was concerned? I decided against it. I did, however, remove some of the detail about communications, photography and other technology. That should be a lesson for the future. Whatever technology I’m using today will be obsolete tomorrow, so the less said about it the better, unless its integral to the story.
There’s a lesson to be learned every day when you get in to writing and publishing.
The obstacles to writing are rarely major ones – at least for me. Personally I find that getting sidetracked is all too easy. For the last few weeks I’ve been sidetracked by entertaining a house guest, spending more time than I should on photography, talking about writing, talking about photos, and even getting myself organised to get news of my latest collection of short pieces, ‘Pick and Choose’, out and about.
I tell myself I’ve reached a turning point in the novel I’m writing, so it will pay dividends to put it aside for a while. Perhaps it will. Or not? Every time a treacherous thought like that creeps into my mind I’m reminded of Sinclair Lewis’ famous advice to all aspiring writers: The art of writing, he said, is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
If there is another way of writing, I haven’t found it!
The world of authorship has many facets. Once a book is finished, there’s a whole new other world you have to face up to – getting it ‘out there’. Suddenly you’re sucked into a technological vortex.
And that was how I found myself spending an hour with a ‘website optimiser’ – not to optimise my own website, but just to get a better handle on how the whole business of how search engines work. I learned a lot.
On the way home I reflected how the world has quickly changed to demand that people with very different backgrounds, mindsets and skills find ways of working together harmoniously and productively. That’s a big ask for us all. Suddenly writing a book seems the easy bit!
I spent a little time at the Brisbane Writers Festival recently. What struck me most was the huge variety of writing that was profiled – as well as all genres of fiction imaginable, we had poetry, translations, cartoons, journalism and writing games for iPods, to mention just a few. Memoirs and histories took pride of place, alongside science writing and social science treatises.
Academics spoke about influential reports and reviews they had authored; so did legal eagles. The social media came in for a good deal of scrutiny.
As I bussed it home I reflected that, courtesy of technology, these days we are all authors as well as readers, and our communications can be transmitted far and wide. There’s some responsibility attached to that.
After a long break I’m back at the keyboard and the blog – and now I’m looking through the lens as well.
I’ve decided to add a new page to my website, marrying my interests in text and images. Postcards seemed to be the way to go – short, simple, colourful, aimed to a theme, with room for a few words to form a bridge between my photographs and the readers’ interpretation.
I hope you enjoy them. Like the blog, they’ll appear intermittently. I heard an international writer recently expressing amazement at how little time she had left for writing, after doing everything else!
Books can be a long time coming! I started putting ‘Pick and Choose’ together a couple of years ago. Most of my writing as been at the lighter end of crime. This collection started life as a collection of my other (ie non-crime) stories, most of which had been successful to some extent in competitions. Then I began to add bits and pieces – new stories, reflections on travel, and on life itself. When is a book finished? Probably never! but sometime the author has to let it go. That happened last week.
So finally, here it is, published only as an e-book. I hope its readers find something to entertain them, and something to ponder on.
I noticed him as soon as I strolled into my local park. The young man was lying on his stomach propped up on his elbows, staring into his phone. He was taking a selfie. His expression was dark, mournful, even grim. On my second circuit of the walking track he was sitting cross-legged, phone thrown on to the grass, and he was weeping noisily into a large handkerchief.
I was a bit nonplussed: should I speak to him? Try to offer comfort? I didn’t. As you don’t. But he’s been in my thoughts.
That’s probably because the writer inside me has been speculating. What was his story? Did his girlfriend dump him? Did he send her the selfie to show her how miserable he was? Did she text back something like – get over it? Worse- sent a happy photo of her with another bloke? Or was another story altogether?
I love shadows. Shadows add such drama to life, to photographs and most of all to stories.
A few months ago I found myself with a group of fossickers in a quarry outside the far western Queensland town of Richmond. We were scratching around the bottom of what used to be an inland sea over twenty million years ago, looking for fossils. Yes, we did find some fragments – but only a few days later a young family unearthed a huge internationally significant find just metres from where we we’d been digging.
I took this group portrait there, and it was my submission to my photography club’s ‘shadows’ theme. Some of the entries were so imaginative – the shadow of a wedding ring captured between the pages of an open book, the shadow of a statue cast on to a ceramic pot.
Where writing is concerned, shadows and secrets are the stuff of page-turners. I enjoy weaving plots around crimes and misdemeanours of times past which cast shadows over generation after generation … and I love reading other books where shadows hover over the plot and mystify the reader.
It’s so hard to let go of a manuscript. My short story collection Pick and Choose has been a work in progress for some years now, and finally it’s reached the point where It Is Finished! It’s been edited and proofread countless times. Anything more I do to it will be overkill. I know that. So why do I find it so hard to let it go?
Soon it will join my collection of e-books, out in the world for readers’ enjoyment and criticism. I’m waving it off a bit nervously, and with a twinge of regret. Long experience has taught me that there’s nothing that appeals to everyone. Where writing is concerned, quality is in the eye of the beholder. I can only hope it finds its own readers in due course.
One of the perils – and responsibilities – of being an author is critiquing the work of other writers. I’ve recently been reading a novella, a beautifully presented piece of work by a keen first time author. I remember the feeling well, of giving my very first real attempt at fiction to a respected writing colleague for an opinion. It was a bit like passing a cherished child over to the dentist!
I find it’s always a difficult balance to strike when I’m reviewing work in progress. It’s no mean feat for a new writer to produce a coherent 25,000 word story, and credit must be given for that. So where do I draw the line between praise and (hopefully) helpful criticism? The last thing I want to do is discourage anyone. But many writers fresh off the starting block see their first draft as the finished product, and want to send it off to be published while they get on to their next project. I have learned the hard way that I need to take at least as much time to rewrite as I do to write the first draft – of anything. Maybe that should be the last of my comments on this particular piece of work?
Anyway it’s been a salutary reminder that I should take a closer look at issues like pace and tension in my own fledgling novel. It’s all too easy to roll along, letting the characters tell their own story.