Two weeks ago, on a Wednesday morning, I sent an email. It wasn’t any old email; it was a very particular email, one I’d been thinking of sending for months. The email was to three people: a well-known Australian writer, a life-long publisher, and the man behind a radical Melbourne-based press. All three men, good men, wise men, in their own various ways have become a mentor to me, because I can’t do this alone.
Over the last two years the well-known Australian writer has been working with me on a manuscript for my second novel; how encouraging he has been, so generous with his advice and time. The longstanding publisher put out my first novel, Remnants, distributing it nationally and internationally, garnering ten reviews, nine of which were more than positive; I have a contract out on the writer of the negative one. The man behind the radical press read a manuscript I wrote when I did my masters in creative writing back at the University of Wollongong in 2000/2001 and loved it so much that he wanted to publish it; when it was eventually published – it would become the manuscript for my first novel – he offered me such praise that I was humbled to a pulp.
Yes, these men have become mentors, people I look up to, people I need.
Two weeks ago, I was in need of some mentorly love, because I’d hit a wall. After seventeen years of writing, of hard work, the last five of which have been so incredibly intense, getting up at 5am even when I felt like I’d been hit by a train, being committed, tenacious, single-minded, I had nothing to show for it. Well, that’s not entirely true. To keep myself sane during the writing of what I’d hoped would be my second novel, I produced what I’ve been calling ‘creative journalism’, which is a euphemism for ‘stuff I send to the newspaper even though I have no idea what I’m doing’. It’s true that I’ve loved writing these pieces – a monthly 500-word column (filed here on Under the Counter in the various First Word archives) and the odd feature – and I’ve taken their production seriously, as seriously as I take my fiction. But it’s not fiction, it’s not as magical as that.
It’s true that in the last eighteen months I’ve established a website, and this blog-shaped spot in the world, and Verity La – the on-line creative arts journal that thinks it can, and actually does, and more recently, to my amazement and gross disappointment, a god-damn Facebook profile. (Finding myself with the latter is like spending a lifetime hating commercial FM pop music only to discover myself enjoying a Phil Collins CD. If this were to happen in real life, I’m off to Mars.)
The point of my email to my holy trinity of mentors? That I’d had enough.
Of writing. Of being a writer.
Yes, it sounds dramatic, even overdramatic. But I couldn’t see the point of continuing. Sure, I love the act of writing, the intolerable wrestle with words and ideas, and I love the act of reading – my bookshelves radiate such goodness into my little home that I could never imagine being without them. However, sometimes it’s worth taking a step back and asking the hard questions. Has this love of mine become a health-hazard? (Perhaps heroin addicts ask the same question.) Might it not be better to spend the next forty years pottering around in my garden, pruning this, potting that, planting something else? Gardening is fulfilling, and life-saving, especially now that I have only a handkerchief-sized plot of dirt to play in.
The odds of getting published in Australia are extraordinarily long – one in a thousand is a figure I saw quoted in a reputable literary journal – and you have to write something extraordinary for it to have a life out of the bottom drawer. It’s this that I shared with my mentor men. Of course, I was fishing for words of wisdom, if not outright praise. ‘Nigel, you are clearly the best developing writer in the country – it would be a crime against humanity to give up now.’ That kind of thing.
I sent my email, shut down my lap-top, and then thought to myself, what a whiny, ungrateful bastard that email will make me sound like. But I didn’t care – I meant what I wrote, because I needed help. It was the first time I’d done such a rash thing.
So, it was with more than a shock that I opened the laptop the next morning and found not a reply from one of my mentor men but an email from Blemish Books saying that they were interested in a pair of novellas that I’d sent them and would like to meet to discuss their publication. We’ve since had our meeting and the first novella, Fall On Me, will be published in September/October this year; depending on the success of the first, the second, I’m Ready Now, will be published in 2012.
Am I excited? You better fucking believe it.
In the past, the journey to publication has been a private matter, something that I’ve largely kept to myself, the choicest bits shared with He Who Has To Put Up With These Things, and a little bit dribbled here and there to family and friends. This time, however, thanks to a website, this blog, and a god-damn Facebook profile, I’m going to do regular updates – reality TV, if you like, except without the TV. We could call the series of posts Nigel’s Got Talent (no, that won’t do, obviously), or The Text-Factor (cute, but corny), or My Novella Rules (which is pretty hilarious). Or perhaps we should simply call it The Blemish Novella Story. Yes, we’ll call it that, because ‘blemish’ means ‘imperfection’ and ‘fault’ and ‘blotch’, and I am nothing if not these things.
Come with me as I tell all – the whole box and dice: the highs, the lows, the gossip, the last-minute dramas and hissy-fits – as a little novella that was born in a cliff-face gatekeeper’s cottage comes into the gaze of what I can only hope will be a completely and utterly adoring public.
Hoo-bloody-ray for the unpredictability of life.