I often think of her when I walk past her house. She’d be long dead by now. We were neighbours many years ago. Probably she was around sixty then, and her husband was in a wheelchair; their fights were frequent and loud. I was young, busy, out and about. The day I moved in she demanded a new fence. Broke, I asked her to wait until I could afford it. The next week a new fence was constructed and the bill put in my letterbox. It wasn’t a good start to the relationship. I soon learned she was the neighbourhood spy, reporting every minor event to any authority she could think of, interfering in everyone’s business. I dealt with her simply by ignoring her, after I finally paid for my share of the fence – a cheque accompanied by a sharply worded note.
All these years later I can see that her world had shrunk to her street. She was bitter, lonely, disappointed in the hand life had dealt her. She wanted to be significant. In retrospect I couldn’t have chosen a more hurtful response. She even screamed at me one morning when I was backing out – you pretend I don’t exist! I had no answer to that, and just swung off to work.
One day she will appear on a page. One day I will explore the nature of her particular brand of unhappiness. Although I have long since moved and moved again, ending up nearby, in the meantime I see her scowling at me every time I walk down that street.
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.
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?