Monday, March 3, 2014
Next, I started doing courses. I found the ones offered through UWA Extension to be worthwhile. I met my copyeditor at one of these day courses. I did a short creative writing course through Tuart College. While very general, it did give us a weekly set of homework to aim to complete, which helped get me writing. I also realised how weird it can be to hear someone read their work, especially if the subject matter is a bit unusual. One student was working on a crime thriller, but when she read the excerpt about the crime, set out in painstaking and graphic detail, we couldn't help but look at her and wonder what part of her that came from. I wrote whenever I was in the mood, and somehow once I got going, I was always in the mood. The more I wrote, the more I wrote. Then, within 8 months of sucking up my pride and returning to that writing group I'd found, I realised that I had completed my first draft. The next step was to get some reader feedback. This time I was prepared to be told things I might not like, as I was ready for it. I was playing the long game now. I didn't need it to be perfect, I needed to work out how to make it better. Changing my focus was crucial. My writing group hostess was fantastic. We wrote in entirely opposite genres, mine was memoir in a conversational style; her's was speculative historical fiction. Yet she took my 300 plus pages of A4 printouts, and went off and read every page. Better still, she wrote comments on every page. I used her feedback to improve my draft. It was time to polish, and time to learn. I was so excited to be at this stage. It seemed like my goal was in sight. However, what I didn't realise was that it would be another two years before I had my book published, and it would be a rocky road ahead.
Once again I wish to thank the bookshops that are continuing to support local writers by stocking copies of my book Road Wench. The Dymocks store at Midland Gate recently restocked. Other stores with stock on the shelf include Beaufort Street Books, Oxford Street Books and Planet Books. Besides these, Mill Point Book Caffe might have one - but if not, and you ask them, they will be able to order it in. Interstate, Readings in Carlton have some copies too. The Brisbane and Adelaide stores are out of stock. If you are in a state without a bookstore that stocks it, email me at roadwench AT hot mail DOT com (sorry, have to put it like that, else I will be spammed relentlessly) and I can sell to you direct. Thanks again to the wonderful bookshops who have, but especially to the ones that continue to stock Road Wench. Go check them out - they're fun and you feel sexier, cooler and far more intelligent just by entering their doors (I guarantee it!). Shannon Meadows
Monday, February 17, 2014
About a month after we met, I turned up to meet the members of the ad hoc writing group. There were four of us, and each had brought a few pages of our recent work to share. The group leader was serious about writing, having completed the entire Curtin University writing course part-time while also working. 'Show don't tell,' she said to me. I didn't know what she was on about. 'Don't use so many descriptions after dialogue. He said or she said is better, and even leave them out if you can.' There were lots of good tips. At the time I didn't want to follow them. There's more than one way to write. We're writing in different genres. What does she know. I'm reluctant to admit that all these reactions were swirling around in my head. It was fun to meet with other writers. I'd found it hard to keep focus doing it all alone. Writing is done alone, but eventually it's meant to be shared with readers, and it was nice to share the experience. We planned to meet each month. One benefit of doing it this way was we each had a deadline, and aimed to have done at least something before the next meetup. It's easy to let a month or two whiz by with nothing written, when it's just you keeping check, and when life and the job that pays the bills gets in the way. I really like the idea of the writing group. In theory. I just wasn't so good at it in practice. After being told lots of useful hints that my hostess had gleaned across an entire, and reputable, writing course, I still wasn't convinced that they knew better than I did. But what I was most keen for was their critique of my work in progress. I brought a sample to our second meeting. When we swapped each other's samples, my heart was in my mouth. Getting feedback from other writers, this was what I was really here for. I couldn't wait to be told how funny my stories were, or how well I'd worded a paragraph, or how entertaining it was. I'd have a long wait. When the samples were returned, we went through our feedback in detail. It was an interesting process, until it got to my chapter. 'I think you need to show more, there's too much exposition,' said one. I didn't even know what that meant. 'I think you could add some dialogue, to break it up a bit,' said another. 'You've got a rough draft, but I think you need to start again,' said the third. In my head, my reaction was WHAT THE HELL WOULD YOU KNOW. I was affronted. Offended. Riled. Disappointed. I didn't let on how outraged I was at their attack on my perfectly fine chapter, but I did look deflated. When I got home that evening, I swore I would never again bother going to that group. Who needed them? What did they know? And so I didn't. I stayed at home on the monthly Tuesday nights. But another thing I also didn't do - I didn't write anything else either. I was stymied. I didn't know how to go on with it. Plus I didn't feel like it. There was already a book about touring out there, so what was the point wasting my time trying. Then around about seven months later, it occurred to me that maybe, if I wanted to get writing, I needed to talk to people who knew how hard it was. And I needed to make minigoals, like we had when we set targets to achieve for our next meeting. And if I wanted to improve my writing, and widen my target audience, maybe just maybe the other writers had something they could teach me. I texted the hostess out of the blue, and asked if I could come to the next meeting. She replied to say fine, and it was on the following week. Knowing it was so soon, I went off and started to dabble with a few sentences. And when I went back, the other writers in the group were so welcoming, and so helpful, that I realised their advice had been constructive criticism after all. I had a lot to learn. But I'd already learnt the first, most important lesson - to open yourself up to criticism, and grow a thicker skin, in order to try and do better. I'll always be grateful to them for their comments, but also for not commenting on my absence while I was being a sullen cow. So go grow that thicker skin and get writing!
Thursday, February 13, 2014
I returned to Europe for my second summer season in 2000. Foot and mouth had broken out across the UK, leading to cancelled parades for St Patrick's Day in Ireland, and millions of culled sheep and cattle. On tour it seemed that everyone had a special diet of 'no red meat' and chicken became the norm for most meals. Once again I didn't keep a personal diary during the season, but I did have my work diary, and I jotted down a few points to remind me of the funnier - and stranger - parts of my season. I was ready, set to return to Australia at the end of the season, write it all up and publish my story. Then bloody Brian Thacker came out and published his story. About life as a tour manager. In Europe. Published by Allen & Unwin. Read by everyone on tour and all road crew. He'd beaten me to it, damn him. I remember reading his book and really enjoying it; double damn. What's the point, I thought to myself. There's no need for me to write up my stories anymore, he's done it all. When I got back to Australia I halfheartedly typed up a couple of pages of headings, prompts about different stories. Then I left it. That would have been the end, except for one little thing - I don't like giving up once I get my mind set on something. So every year after that, at the end of the season, I typed up a few more pages, the briefest of notes, simply to jog my memory. I left it at that, and focussed on having a fantastic time on tour. The fantastic times were hard to say goodbye to, and I didn't manage to tear myself away from touring life until the end of 2004. With a place in a university course and a plan to start afresh in a new field, not returning to my pre-touring life as a lawyer, I was set. Then I started to struggle. Moving back to Perth was like the worst way to move to a new city. It was quieter than Melbourne or Sydney, where nightlife doesn't evaporate just because it's a Monday. It was a place I felt at home, because it had been my home - but in the meantime, the six years I'd been away, the friends and family I'd left behind had not been in stasis. Instead they'd lived their lives, lives which right now didn't have much room to fit in a post-travelling, still-partying 30 something who couldn't sit still. Where were my group of 50 buddies to go out with on a Tuesday? What was I thinking, coming home, chucking aside that amazing lifestyle? I stared at the walls of my flat and felt glum. Then, one of those friends, who was very busy with her family and kids, had a night out. One of my friends was eager to know how I was getting on with all the stories that I'd said I would one day write up. 'Have you started your book yet? I'd love to read it,' she said. She was sitting next to a random new friend of the birthday girl, and she mentioned that she too was writing a book. 'I've got a couple of friends who meet up once a month to review and critique each other's work. It's basically an excuse to drink wine. Would you like to come along?' I would. I did. But what happened at that first meeting led me to sulk for the next 7 months, until eventually I was ready to listen.
Friday, February 7, 2014
I did keep a diary during that first season on the road, but it bore more resemblance to my Year 4 'Fed the chooks. School' diaries than to my London hostel journal. During the training trip from hell, our diary and planning was drilled into us. It helped. With so many factors involved in every trip, having a checklist meant less chance of stuffing up and ruining a tour for clients. It meant that two weeks after the tour began, we'd arrive at a campsite and they would have the right number of beds for us, or feed the three strict vegetarians, or have the right number of seats reserved for an optional dinner out. The downside was that it was purely utilitarian. I didn't add in any notes about nutbag clients or fights with drivers or crazy things that happened that day. I meant to but I was so busy with my planning diary that when I finally had some time on the coach where I wasn't writing or spieling or planning with my driver or chatting to clients, all I was good for was looking out the windscreen at the scenery whizzing by. However I don't regret that, as clearly I needed a mental break whenever I could get it, and perhaps that contributed to the longevity of my touring career. It also meant that although I wasn't smelling the roses from inside the travelling coach, I was soaking in the scenery. And what a varied and picturesque range of landscape there was. I never got tired of looking at it and it's imprinted on my memory. None of this helps much when it comes to writing up my memoir. It helps for the ingrained details, the things that I'll never forget, but it doesn't help for the day to day incidents that are fun to rant, write and read about. Luckily I'm a ranter from way back. I can put up with most things, provided I get to have a private conversation with a like-minded individual, preferably over a glass of wine, and rant and rave about all the kooks in the world and often on my tour. I found the ideal person in other road crew, particularly other tour managers. Having practiced telling my more outlandish stories, when I returned home to Australia at the end of that first season, I practiced some more. I regaled friends and family over my summer down under. They were suitably shocked, impressed and entertained. I had some free time, mooching off my folks (back in that same country town I'd worked so hard to get away from), and borrowed my sister's computer and started writing. At first I wrote a list of chapter headings, the main crazy stories that I had been sharing with friends. Then I went further, and started writing them out in full. As much as I could remember. This time I included details, especially the bits that my local audience had enjoyed, and I also included how I felt. Emotions. By the end of that summer, I had fifty pages written. Fantastic, I thought. Once I finish touring - I planned to do one more season then return to work as a laywer - then I'll write up all my stories and publish a book. Easy. I'd always wanted to write, my early diaries were followed by more and more short stories that had been a pleasure to write and got me good marks and extra readers all through high school, but like what had happened with my journal, once I'd reached university and was having such a wild time (relatively speaking) away from home, I stopped creative writing and merely wrote essays. Finally, a lifelong dream was within reach. Or so I thought. I was a very long way off. I didn't know it, but it would be a decade until I published my first book and it would be a difficult path to publication. I would do it, I would fulfil my dream, but I had no idea what would be involved.
Friday, January 31, 2014
Ever since I could write sentences, I've kept a diary. At first it was far from inspiring, simply a record of daily life. A typical entry was 'Got up. Breakfast. Fed chooks. School.' and so on. Then I found one entry when I was ten, a little gem surrounded by chooks and schoolwork. 'Had a fight with my sister. Dad had a good talk to me about sharing. I feel closer to Dad now.' The difference was that I had included my emotions, for a chance, my inner journey. Years later I continued my daily diary routine, and when I finally took the big step of moving to London on a working holiday visa, I was excited to be able to write about. 'How long are you going for?' people asked as the departure date loomed. 'I'm not going to be restricted to a set time,' I replied, carefree. 'Maybe two months, maybe two years, who knows?' What I meant was that if it didn't turn out like I hoped, then I didn't want to feel like I had to stay away 'just because' I had an arbitrary time limit. But at the same time I didn't want to feel like I had to come back quickly either. At no stage did I ever suspect that my flippant, 'don't pin me down' response was nowhere near the truth - and in fact, I would live overseas for six years. I suppose that if someone had been able to look into the future and tell me that, I might've thought twice, and not done it. Ignorance however is bliss, and off I went, landing at Heathrow during the busy week leading up to Easter, staying in a cheap but very nasty hostel for a few days until I thought I would be on the news for a hostel disaster story akin to the Great Fire of London given that all my roomies smoked and thought it was fun to play with matches in a pokie crowded dorm room up three flights of narrow rickety stairs. Mindful of my previously declared two month minimum, I decided to book a trip to Scotland. Around the corner from my horrible hostel was a Top Deck travel agency, so I wandered in there. I'd heard of them so I thought they would be the first reputable group I'd dealt with since arriving. What I didn't realise was that they weren't just an agency, they were the central Top Deck base for all of London. Not only that, but as we got chatting they agreed that my hostel was not up to scratch (I had wondered if perhaps it was me, and I had unrealistic expectations of the backpacker world) and promptly recommended a hostel nearby where their road crew stayed between tours. I was convinced; if it was good enough for their road crew it sounded good enough for me. I went around and checked it out, was told there was room at the inn - well, hostel, wrong religious holiday for that phrase - in two days, just in time for the Easter long weekend which had booked out most of the city already. I didn't end up booking the Scottish tour, but I did move in - and ended up staying there for a year. Yes, that's right, a YEAR. Again, if I'd had a fortune teller I might've shortened it somewhere along the way, but it kind of just happened and suited me. I got to keep my bed (even though it might be in a different dorm) when I came back from trips to Europe, but wasn't paying rent while away. I got to stash my extra gear in their attic free of charge, and I got to live in what felt like an oversized share house, with only 45 of us and the siblings running the place making it feel like home. We also got to have kitchen parties, front step parties, dance on tables, and go out to the pubs along Earls Court Road with determined regularity. It was not just a place, it was a lifestyle, and for the first time since I'd set my sights on university as a means of escaping my country town in high school, followed by my degree and working in public then private sectors as a lawyer, I felt like I was off the grid. The working visa helped. It stipulated that I could NOT work in my regular profession. No law. I could've worked as a paralegal, assisting a local lawyer, but that would've involved a commitment to working month by month, and I relished the prospect of upping and leaving for a trip through Europe every month or two that was permitted by working in random administrative jobs. For once in my life I wasn't in a job that required me to be responsible. I was having fun, meeting lots of people simply in our kitchen as new bodies arrived from all over the world and decided to stay in our hostel for a night or two, and meeting others who became one of us known as the 'long termers'. I wrote feverishly in my journal. That was another first - I didn't simply have a list of chores and boring things to write about; instead every day was an adventure. I had incidents, characters, dramas, the whole gamut. But the problem was, I was having too good a time. And somehow, around the three month mark, I started to forget to write in my journal every day. Then I forgot completely. And unbeknownst to me, I still had 5 years and 9 months of adventures ahead of me. That daily journal would have been very handy. Within the first 12 months, something happened that meant I was no longer doing random, unimportant, unthinking jobs and having a raucous time in the hours I wasn't at work. I got a job as a European tour manager. I could party during work time, it was part of the job, but I was also responsible for fifty clients and ensuring we provided all that was promised in intinerary. Quite often a tour would represent two hundred and fifty thousand dollars of clients' money, invested in the 'promises' set out in the company's glossy brochures, and it was my job to make sure they got it. I had found a way to party, travel, be paid (not exorbitantly) for it, but also returned to a job with massive responsibility. I was glad I'd had the mental break of my London year off the career path. It was game on.
Friday, January 24, 2014
'How did you get published?' is a common question I encounter. Another is, 'How did you write your book?' Each time I answer these questions, I am reminded that I really ought to blog my answer, as it's a lot more detailed than a brief conversation can cover. And I meant to, I really did, it's just that other things got in the way. Such as writing the sequel - and trying to write the sequel - and talking about writing the sequel - and doing writing courses - and cleaning my bathroom - and work (yes I suspect that in order to pay the bills, no matter how many books I write, the dayjob will remain a necessity) - and so on. But it's a new year, a fresh start, the possibility to wipe the slate clean and start anew, invigorated. I decided I needed to take action while I was still feeling motivated (and before the conversations about being motivated morphed into yet more opportunities for procrastination). It's nothing new for writers or aspiring writers to be this way. Jerome K Jerome's quote from more than a century ago is telling: "I love work. I can sit and look at it for hours." So here we go. A new year. A fresh start. A new endeavour. I will aim to post the answer to these questions, broken down into three parts: 1. How did I write the book? (In other words, what was involved in finishing the written part). 2. How did I publish the book? (Not that hard to do; but publishing is, as I discovered, far more than getting a print run. However there is a lot I learnt about the printing process). 3. What else is involved in publishing and do I recommend self publishing? (Perhaps the longest section). Next post: I will commence with some detail about Part 1 - the writing process. Thanks for reading. Shannon Meadows