Up on the eighteenth floor

January 31, 2020 at 9:54 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I saw the missed call. I was at work and couldn’t call back straight away. My agent had told me to be patient, to be calm. I was neither of those things. When I could call back, I had one of the most astonishing conversations of my life. How I went back into class and taught, I don’t know. I thought I was holding it together but one of my students asked whether I was feeling all right. ‘Absolutely,’ I told them, beaming. And it was more than true.

After work, I bought a bottle of champagne and went to meet my husband. It was his birthday the next day. As a treat I’d booked us a hotel room on the 18th floor, overlooking Victoria Market on the edge of Melbourne’s CBD. The day was sweltering, over 40 degrees, and the eerie yellow sky was thick with dust. People I passed on the city streets looked wired and worried. I put my head down and pressed the elevator buzzer.

He was tired and tender after his own full day. I listened to him talk and poured him champagne. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to share my news; I just needed to hold it in my hands for a while, quietly, on my own. And then I did tell him. Today I was offered a publication contract for my novel, baby. I said the words I’d waited my whole writing life for. I said the words aloud, like a spell, and held my glass up. His face, and then his clink, and then the joy. The offer for his own novel had come only two months before, an email I’d met with hollers and he’d met with stunned silence. Different people, different novels, but the same path, and the same passion.

We headed into Victoria Market and ate a bizarre yet delicious Korean Mexican meal. I had kim chi quesadillas with grape soju that tasted like bubble gum. Afterwards we went to The Drunken Poet and sat under Guinness signs and framed portraits of Irish writers. I had so much to process I could barely hear the band. We went back into the heat and the wind. I kept trying to tame my wild fringe and he kept grinning at how badly I failed. We went up to our room, laughing.

On the balcony of the 18th floor the wind roared. My long hair whipped around me; my glasses almost flew off. In bed, it shook the windows. The din was so ferocious it sounded like a vacuum cleaner slamming down the hallway, but when I looked, there was no-one there. We did not sleep well. Chris kicked me in his sleep, fighting dream crocodiles. I woke at 5:30am and watched the sky turn cold blue, wishing like hell for rain.

I didn’t fall back asleep. Instead, I replayed the phone conversation, and tried to plan for what might come next. I thought of my manuscript, of my protagonist, and the white and wild Iceland that spellbinds us both. I watched dawn wake my city. And then I got up, and reached for my notebook.

I am over the moon to announce that I’ve just signed with Scribner at Simon and Schuster to publish my debut novel. I’m utterly delighted to be working with the amazing people there, and so grateful to everyone who’s had faith in me and my writing ❤ Exciting times ahead!

Footscray
(photo by Shannon McDonald)

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Elva of the Equinox

March 23, 2019 at 1:42 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

BELL-10

Bird bones, cat box, leopard print…my writing studio (photo by Shannon McDonald)

I knew straight away I’d broken it. The pain was extraordinary. I managed to limp to the shower but stood under the water with my head against the tiles, trying not to throw up.

Of all the mornings to accidentally smash my toe against the brutal feet of our new couch, it had to be today.

There was no way I could cancel. I struggled into my clothes and with sheer bloody mindedness, zipped up my knee high leather boots. ‘It’s not too bad,’ I protested to my man, who winced as he watched me. ‘Why don’t you wear something more practical?’ he asked. We both knew why. I’d had my outfit picked out, professional with a tinge of rockabilly sass, and was determined to wear it: high boots, pencil skirt, and a red blouse with pussy bow, my tattoos spilling out of the cap sleeves.

And so off I limped to meet the literary agent who had requested my novel manuscript, and was waiting to discuss it with me over coffee.

Like I said, an appointment I did not want to cancel.

bench

Writing at the lake, in Ólafsfjörður, northern Iceland

Melanie knows her stuff. She’s worked in publishing for over twenty years as an editor, publisher, consultant, educator and literary agent. It was an amazing opportunity to have her insight into my manuscript, and well worth limping into Melbourne for.

We chatted for two hours. My pen flew as we went over what did and didn’t work, about the Icelandic writing residency that inspired my novel in the first place, the cold up near the Arctic Circle and the myths and sagas of that wild white land. We spoke of spells and solstices, the taxidermy I’ve been doing as research, and the macabre and Gothic undercurrents that fuel myself and my ink. And in between I soaked up her wisdom on pacing and narrative tension, character charts and dialogue, scribbling as many notes as I could.

When I capped my pen I had five pages of ideas and inspiration…and yes, I had an agent.

I am beyond delighted to have signed with Melanie Ostell Literary. I pulled the contract from my letter box yesterday, smack on the Autumn Equinox, a perfect time to start a new cycle. I’m excited about the next draft, and the opportunity to hone and tighten my manuscript, and see where we can take it.

In the month between drafts, I really missed my protagonist, Elva. It’s felt odd not to delve into her life, her studio apartment in Reykjavik, her Icelandic lessons and taxidermy attempts. Putting the manuscript away for a month left quite a hole in my life. So in my own peculiar way, I filled it with a tiny baby snake, which I (of course) named Elva.

Elva

Elva, new member of the family

She’s a hatchling, so inquisitive and affectionate, who loves being handled and has captivated our whole household. No bites yet.

Maybe she thinks a broken toe is enough for me to deal with right now, hey?

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As I sing my song to the sea

February 9, 2019 at 9:19 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I know I’ve been absent, but for the best of reasons.

I’ve been writing.

And I’ve finished my novel.

My last post described my retreat in the Dandenongs where I put my head down and worked on the last stretch of my manuscript, with nothing but walks in the rainforest and Big Mama Thornton singing the blues to distract me. Two weeks later I flew over to Tasmania in a propeller plane that had me clenching my teeth, but which brought me to a beach side house where I again sat for days, typing away as I listened to waves crash only metres away.

Tassie

Sisters Beach, Tasmania

I welcomed the first day of 2019 with a swim in the ocean, bobbing around under the bluest of skies as I sang my offering to the sea goddesses. Then I dried myself off, and wrote some more.

Tassie 2

Beach side bliss, Sisters Beach, Tasmania

Last week I could see the finishing line approach. I sat in my studio back home in Melbourne, surrounded by my skulls and snake skins, my Icelandic spell books and photos of my writing residency in the tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle that had inspired my manuscript in the first place.

And then I wrote those magic words.

End of Bird Spit MS

I barely had time to drink my champagne before I was given two weeks to edit it for the agent who’s been patiently waiting to read it since June. So now I’m back in my studio, head down, Big Mama crooning, honing my words as I edit, stitch and strengthen the project that’s been my passion for three years now.

All the emotions are swirling right now, but among them is joy.

I would love to stay and chat, but I have work to do.

Hold my whiskey: I’m going back in.

Finished novel!

Excited and exhausted at the finishing line

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