The only word I can find right now is “strange” to sum up how I feel. So, I’ll write a story and share it here. A story about writing a book.
“I want to be a writer or a journalist”, said the thirteen year old who had been writing poems and complex stories as early as eight. She had rushed home from school to announce this. Her English teacher had just poured over her work and given her what felt like the first genuine praise that she had ever received.
“Why? Do you want to live in a garage and eat dog food? Cause that’s what will happen”, came her mothers response. She knew, deep down, not to expect any more than this, it was the nature of how her family saw the world. Later in life, her mother would become one of her biggest supporters in encouraging her to finish the story.
But her little girl’s heart craved for “Well then, what courses can we enroll you in? How can we support you?”
Instead she became an aircraft technician, then a hodge podge of other things.
But when she was 26, in the basement of her existence she wrote a short story. It was about a place she had traveled to, for extended periods, when she was a girl. A place in the centre of Australia that her father loved and where he had lived and worked during the 1960’s. The area around Alice Springs.
Finally she became an anthropologist, the main thrust of which, was describing people and things.
Writing. She never stopped writing. But it became technical, functional. Privately, the story written about the desert continued to create itself, emerging in pieces. Always hidden but occasionally mentioned and revealed to a small group she trusted.
She moved to the desert at 35 and worked on country with the people it belonged to. The story grew. She liked this story, but she was terrified no one else would. She didn’t care if it never got published, she just wanted to finish it.
At 44 she committed to finishing it. Only because she had lost everything in her life that meant something, everything except this one story. She worked teaching English for a few months in China and finally finished the story. At least to a point it needed to be seen by someone who knew what a good story was. To have it measured. She knew there was more to be done, but for now, it was where she wanted the story to be (alive).
It was a story not like the writing she did for work. It was historical fiction about Central Australia. It was about themes that were important, but also about being human. About a place and the experience of the people who live there, a place that most Australians do not know or understand. About being fragile. About being real. About the frontier of the past and the now, the frontiers of culture, care and healing. But it was also a piece of her own heart.
It sat. She returned to the Desert at 45 and the place that first birthed the story in her teens. A dear friend sent her the Hachette publishing mentorship links. Just shy of her 46th birthday, she pushed send on the first three chapters, sending it down an internet wormhole to judgement.
In the dark of her living room, she sat and cried. A whole tub of ice cream was consumed. The little voice in her head said “dog food”.
To her complete surprise, the story won the mentorship. 12 months of review and technical edits were awarded to the story. She sent the whole final draft off, the voice in her head saying “garage”.
The first literary agent review came in five months later. Not really the perilous wait you might imagine, as she had convinced herself the story would be rejected.
It was feedback that made her believe in the story. That’s not to say she didn’t like the story. But the fact that an expert did, well that was something.
There is no way to describe how that feels. But it’s not jumping around wildly. She’s still kind of, well, pleasantly frightened.
It still has a way to go. But writing will commence again and the second draft will take some of the characters where they need to go. Some of the work needs to be “less academic” or rather, needs to be as brave as the other chapters.
She knows the story is good. She probably always did. But the makings of a great novel? Those were the words. Great. Novel.
It’s one thing to believe in yourself and your ability (which she does). It’s another thing to act. It’s altogether another thing to rise above those little voices that recite negative messages from our pasts.
But they are just voices. It will take some more time, but not as long as the 20 years it took to get to here. She’s in a different headspace now.
She doesn’t particularly care if it doesn’t make it onto the shelf as long as it continues to grow out of her heart. If it ends up on a shelf, a piece of her heart will possibly leap into someone else’s. Either way, it’s a beautiful, although sometimes confronting, place to be.
Welcome: White Fence.