A couple of years ago I received two publishing offers for my fiction manuscript, Gunfire Lullabies. Can you imagine my joy? I’d slaved over this this book to get it to a high standard, and after considerable interest but no final offer with other publishers, my book and writing was finally about to be formally realised.
One offer was with a small independent publisher and the other was with a more academic publisher, but with restricted conditions. I decided to go with the first offer, even though I’d checked them out and had a few concerns.
After dilly dallying for 18 months, which included months of no communication at all, and missing the golden opportunity to publish my book on the 20th anniversary of the East Timor independence ballot during which it’s set, the publisher pulled out. This was despite a legal opinion from Australia’s top publishing barrister that my novel was good to go.
My disgust and relief were palpable. It was like escaping an abusive relationship. My gut feeling about this publisher had been spot on, which is far easier to say in hindsight.
I decided to do another line edit that took my novel to a new level and sent it to an agent who was a contact of several published writers I knew. This was a mistake as they had a commercial focus, and my book is crossover literally–commercial. Their response was, shall we say, discordant.
I could have gone back to publishers previously interested in my novel or taken it to others. But I asked myself what did I really want?
The answer was creative control. In the end, it’s simple when you work out what your one priority is.
I’m confident about my novel and don’t want to cut out a character, component or the entire literary element to reduce the word count from 113,00 down to 90,000. I couldn’t bare to receive yet another, may I say divergent opinion on one character or another, or to wait to find out whether someone finds my writing style either beautiful or too something or other. You get the idea. I’m not new to the writing game, and while editors’ and agents’ opinions may be informed by professional experience, they’re nonetheless subjective and vary wildly. And really, you could go on perfecting and altering a manuscript or painting for a lifetime.
So I came the decision to self publish. I’d considered it before, but had previously associated it with failure. These days, many formally published authors are making this same decision for some or all of their work for similar reasons as above.
In part this may be because self publishing is not what it used to be. I’ve watched it develop into a big industry featuring unlimited distribution possibilities and a multitude of support options that didn’t exist even 5 years ago. While competition is fierce and the marketing side feels daunting right now, what doesn’t in the beginning?
In the end, it’s time for me to birth my baby so that others can read my story; it’s time for me to finally hold a copy of my book with my name on the cover in my hands.
It was summer again today. The sun burned the clouds and dew and mist away, and the people lay on the white sand and frolicked in the waves and laughed, and cars cruised by playing loud music and there was beer and fish and chips. And or a brief moment, everyone who’d lost their jobs, held fears for their future, couldn’t get supplies or was working from home, forgot. For a moment, the world was young again.
I heard a story the other day from someone traveling through Europe.
When asked by a local what nationality they were, this person replied ‘Australian’.The European turned their back on them and walked away. The traveller said this was the first time they had experienced this. Normally as an Australian they were welcomed with open arms.
The other experience I had was at a networking event filled with small business people from diverse cultural backgrounds. I’m a first generation Australian as were quite a few others. A couple were also new immigrants.
This, I thought, is more like real Australia, not like the white, middle class and middle aged men you see on TV.
‘Best country in the world, Australia,’ two of these men insisted.
‘Is it?’ I wondered. It should be. We’ve been so lucky in many ways.
But rather, I feel shame at being a member of a selfish country that doesn’t care about its poor or homeless, the refugees who legally apply for asylum, the climate that is so obviously changing every year, our animals and plants in distress and decline, the little native bush we have left that’s readily given over to poor farming practices, indigenous Australians’ rights, people with different views, privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of choice over mainstream and alternative medicine, supporting developing countries, public education, women, jobs or the rest of the world except maybe for America.
That’s not quite true. We sort of care. But not enough to do something about these things if it means possibly going against our personal interests.
Instead we are a country that voted against a non-existent death tax, and for share franking to continue when we either had no shares, or because we believed we had a right to avoid paying tax on them so we could give our superannuation to our kids. This is the superannuation already taxed at very low levels to allow for self-funded retirement, thus taking the burden off the state. Me me me over eduction, affordable housing, the economy, infrastructure and aid.
Our identity is as a laid back fair go kind of place. What sort of backbone is that? In any case, there isn’t much that’s fair out there in real Australia, even if there are a million and one rules. We are sexist, ageist, racist and we don’t give a damn about people less well off. I understand the world feels more dog eat dog. I feel it too. But where is the national character in us that says ‘This is not right’? Where is the leader who stands up and is willing to make constructive changes for our future, even if it makes us feel a little uncomfortable? Change is growth and growth can be uncomfortable. Rather, we’re content to tread water and drift backwards.
Australia, I feel, is also a country that reacts with fear rather than finding the courage to follow a vision. In truth, we have no vision. We’d rather knock that down, continuing our unhealthy tall poppy tradition. So we roll over on the things we don’t like and shrug saying ‘Nothing I can do about it’ or ‘I don’t follow politics’. Must protect the status quo.
We have no Magna Carta equivalent and I think we need one that also considers the rights of our first inhabitants. If we properly address our past, we might be better able to build our future. From this process we can forge a stronger identity and define values to guide us during these challenging times.
I used to feel proud in East Timor of the job our soldiers did. I used to feel proud as a diplomat to put forward certain values, politics aside. I’m glad I don’t have to do that now because I couldn’t do it and sleep at night. Compartmentalisation can only go so far.
But getting back to my initial story, while I don’t fully know why the European turned away from the Australian, in my heart of hearts I do. I suspect they might see us as a lucky, spoilt young country that refuses to grow up and be responsible.
And if this was the case, I would agree.
[Before you tell me to go back to where I came from (even though I was born here), I’m writing this because I care. Not because I don’t.]
[Written on 26 July]
It’s three years today since my mother died, joining my father in death and leaving my brothers and I alone, and me the oldest in the family as well as the matriarch. That came a hell of a realisation, I can tell you.
My mother planned to live until she was in her nineties. But I knew this was unlikely.
Deeply suspicious of the medical establishment, and rightly so given her woeful treatment by male gynaecologists who happily stole her fertility and thrust her into early menopause, she refused to deal with them.
Then when she was forced to, she trusted another male doctor who once again let her down, ironically because he gave her what he thought she wanted even though it meant an earlier than necessary death, which I know she did not want at all. But would he listen? No. He would look at me like some interfering busy body as she told to him time and again the lies she told herself.
But that’s all in the past. What is it that I miss about her today, a day of many challenges?
Perhaps I miss that I have no one and nowhere to go to.
Not that my mother ever understood me or my problems, or was someone I could easily turn to. I could in theory, but in reality I whenever I tried I found myself feeling more alone than ever, more unrecognised with every attempt.
I don’t blame my mother for her remoteness. Abandoned by her father in her teens in the worst kind of way, reviled by a jealous and competitive mother, and a survivor of all sorts of childhood travesties including during World War II, she didn’t let that overcome her. Instead she immigrated, had a family and created her dream of being a psychologist.
I admire and respect that and am filled with awe for her.
She could have been a bitter and angry person, she could have inflicted upon us what was done to her. But she wasn’t and she didn’t. She chose to help people. But with me, we were forever ships in the other’s night, reaching out but finding the other too far away to grab hold of. I could not find her being behind her mask of survival and control.
Perhaps what I miss today – and what I’ve continued to struggle to come to terms with these three years – is what we were not and what we can now never be. Her once soft belly and warm full breast of the mother of my dreams would never be realised. All those times I called her up and fell mute when she failed to hear me. That time, days before her death, when I cried into the phone that I never truly felt her love other than as some intellectual exercise. Finally she convinced me it was there, and for some moments it finally was laid bare.
Right now I would settle for even for five minutes of the frustration with her. I would get in my car to be with her, a person who despite it all, welcomed me no matter what.
So perhaps what I really miss is not just her strangled kind of love, but that her death has forced me to grow up. Perhaps I miss being a child. Her death has indeed forced me to be alone at a time when I could very much do with an escape.
And there it is. There is no escape. There is only, and has only ever been, me. And that is the greatest realisation and hurt right there. That she dared to leave me. That she could never rescue me. That I am alone, just as I always was. And neither she nor anyone was ever going to be able to allay that truth.
Maybe there is a part of me too that regrets those struggles we had, who wished I wasn’t so busy with my life during her middle years, who wished I had been more generous with my time and made my mother more welcome, who was less driven mad by her incessant self talk.
Perhaps there is part of me also who, with time, has imagined she could have been different, that she could have changed. But the truth is that no matter how hard I tried, she was never going to be different. She could never step into that hopeful void I made for her to step into.
So as much as all of that, and in the very end, I simply miss my mother. Bravo, mother. Bravo. I love and miss you no matter it all.
In challenging times, always remember the rainbow.
My blogs have, until recently, been all about writing.
With the publication of my debut novel in August, I’ve decided to change tack and write some opinion pieces.
You may have seen my piece about Anzac Day, which stirred up strong feelings as many of us have relatives who are or have been involved in wars, or indeed may have experienced them ourselves.
Some of my new blogs will be opinion pieces on topics I feel strongly about. Hence the quote about courage, because some of it will be close to the bone. Gulp. I don’t know if anyone will be interested in reading them, but it’s important for me to write them.
Others will continue to be about writing. For example, I plan to write about the what the editing process is like from the inside.
Keep on writing. Keep on reading. Keep on thinking you creatives and thinkers. Never, ever give up.
This is my husband. He is a former soldier and returned serviceman who served in the army for 35 years like his father. He is not attending a formal Anzac Day ceremony today. Like many of his former colleagues, he no longer feels comfortable doing so. Instead, we are alone at the old cenotaph in Randwick where ceremonies used to be held, paying our private respects to the memory of those who served and fell defending Australia amid the light rail building work.
Why are we not at a ceremony when increasing numbers of Australians revere the day? We could be at Coogee watching the sunrise over the sea.
First and foremost, my husband resents the hijacking of Anzac Day by religion, and specifically by Christianity. For several years now at Coogee we have endured some dithering priest’s hymns, prayers and long rambling speeches that have had little to do with soldiers or war. He, and I, both found this disrespectful, particularly given the Church’s chequered past as finally revealed during the recent Royal Commission. (While I am no returned soldier, I have served my country in places of violence and risked my life.) Anzac Day should not be regarded as an opportunity to proselytise.
Second, there is the hijacking by those who see Anzac Day as an opportunity to gamble and drink. My husband, like many of his soldier mates, questions what gambling has to do with Anzac Day, and in many ways alcohol too. Sure, some former and present soldiers like to gamble, sure some who saw action drink to forget on a day of remembrance, but these close associations feel to him like another detraction from the real purpose of the day.
Third, there’s this jingoistic glorification of soldiers, which makes him squirm. Perhaps this is a sign of how desperate Australians are to latch onto something meaningful in a world that is, on the surface at least, preoccupied with the superficial, materialistic and ultimately dissatisfying?
Similarly, he deplores the politicisation of the day, which began with John Howard and was supported by a largely irrelevant and unrepresentative RSL eagerly jumping on the band wagon to regain some credibility. And then there’s the commercialisation by organisations such as the AFL who last night bizarrely confused footballers for soldiers in machismo exploitation.
Fourth, the specific day we have chosen to remember the fallen is one he questions. As Paul Keating pointed out, there are better options. I feel great empathy for those men who lost their lives on Anzac Day and their families. They were victims of negligent planning and leadership, to say the least. But why can we Australians not recognise our wins too?
Perhaps if we had fully come to terms with our past by creating a treaty that acknowledged our bloody history with the Aboriginal people, and if we had created a Magna Carta type charter to define our values and citizens’ rights we would no longer be floundering for an identity. It’s not too late.
On this day, I am always reminded of the two ceremonies I attended in East Timor in 2000 and 2003. Like our simple ceremony today, as the sun rose there was largely silence and reflection among the soldiers and civilians, along with respect and remembering, not postulating or evangelising by largely self-interested organisers.
Ann Patchett’s quote is only too true. That said, it’s during my many (and I mean many) edits that I attempt to unearth the words I hope will go some way towards evoking the feeling I want to convey. Sometimes I can spend two hours on a key paragraph. I personally love writing where my emotion and understanding are greater than the sum of the words. This is true art.