In July I signed a three book deal with Orbit. The books in the Death Works series are the next stage in what has already been thirty one years of writing, and about fifteen years of publishing short stories. I’m hardly an overnight success.
When I was thirteen, I was sure that I would have sold my first novel by the time I turned eighteen. After all eighteen year olds were wise and clever, and so old. Well, I was only eighteen years out. In the interim I have had had God knows how many false starts, and written at least eight novels – of which, maybe, just maybe, two are any good.
I’ve also written close to a hundred short stories and sold around seventy. I reckon in another ten years I might actually know how to write a decent short story – I’m getting there.
One thing I’ve learnt is that I can write pretty much anywhere. Those stories have been written on the bus to and from work. One of my favourite stories “Slow and Ache” I wrote in the fire-escape in my lunch breaks. If you love writing; you find the space to write.
Book One of Death Works: Death Most Definite was initially written in my backyard. Me scrawling the story down on a lined writing pad. Like most of my stories I just played around on the page until something interesting got my attention. It wasn’t much of a start, all I had was a guy who falls in love with a dead girl. And the premise of people who worked for death and what might happen if someone started killing them off. Not a lot really: so the book stalled.
It was put aside for a year, or more, then picked up when fellow RORee Marianne de Pierre read the first chapter, and told me that I needed to finish it.
In late 2007 early 2008 I wrote a complete draft by hand in the library in Toowong – walking down to the library every day – listening to the same music to get me in the mood - and writing eight to ten pages finding out more about my characters and my world as I went. The narrative always pulled me on. I had to find out what was happening to these characters.
I beat that draft into some sort of shape and sent it off to Orbit. Now Orbit had come close to buying another of my novels, but this one I felt was better – maybe the best narrative that I’d ever written. Still, it was a little while before I heard anything back. I filled in the time writing a redraft of a children’s novel.
What I got back from that submission was an enthusiastic maybe. The MS still needed work, the first third was bogged down in exposition, a few characters really didn’t work, some were doing the same thing in the story, others were really doing nothing to serve the story at all. Rewrites were requested with no certainty of a sale – but I liked the suggestions, they made sense to me, seemed to be heading in the same direction I wanted the story to go – so I knuckled down and started to rewrite the manuscript.
Bits of it were written on my laptop in hospital waiting for a loved one to get better. A publisher might want to see rewrites, but the world doesn’t stop throwing up challenges. Other bits were scrawled out in notebooks sitting on a seat underneath a great big Moreton Bay Fig Tree in the park near home (a similar tree features prominently in the book).
Two months later I had a new draft: one I felt much happier with, but was it enough?
The novel went back out, and I returned to redrafting my kid’s book. Thank goodness for other projects!
When I got the phone call that I’d sold my novel, and the next two books in the series - well, I couldn’t quite believe it. Here was something that I’d desired since I was five, and finally, finally it was happening. It only took thirty one years.
Of course the work doesn’t stop.
I’m in the middle of a structural edit of book one – which, once I’m done will be tighter and more elegant than any previous draft – and half way through the first draft of book two, while thinking about all the terrible things I’m going to put my character through in book three (I already have the final scene written so I know where it’s going).
But it’s the kind of work that I love, and, I’m still writing in notebooks, and post-it notes, and on the bus to work, as well as my computer: if only I could find a good fire-escape somewhere.