Monday, June 30, 2014
I’m a little bit sad. Maybe I’m depressed; at the very least, deflated. It’s weird, I should be overjoyed. The month of June has been a firecracker. I’ve finally worked out an efficient way to do research, and have sped through the fact-checking of Chapters 15 onwards. Once I got the technique right, it was simply a matter of getting on with it. I tried to do a chapter a day, and this week even managed three chapters on some days. Then on Thursday I put Chapters 23, 24 and 25 to bed. Next day was Chapter 26, a bit more fiddly, but still progress. Yesterday, Saturday, I played sport, and watched the footy I’d taped in between working through Chapter 27. There wasn’t as much to change, as I’d already done a fair whack of it when researching Vienna a few weeks earlier. I felt reluctant to start, even a little down. Why am I feeling this way? I think it’s because I’ve nearly finished it. This massive rewrite has been to add descriptive touches, to add texture to the story. I’ve tried not to do too much, although the word count indicates otherwise, as I hate overly descriptive passages and always skip them when I’m reading. When I finish the last two chapters, all I have left to do is go through and change names so that I haven’t inadvertently used real names. Then it’s really out of my hands. I’ve tweaked bits here and there following reader feedback (I’m fortunate to have a handful of willing and trusted volunteers for the task). I’m waiting for other readers to get back to me – which I realise they may or may not do. Having specially selected readers to check my work is one way to make sure it’s as good as I can get it, but it comes with a catch – they have lives of their own, and can’t all get to it despite their best intentions. As a love job, it’s up in the air whether I’ll hear back from them. The next step then is to write a synopsis, a cover letter, and send it off to a publisher. That’s scary. I think that this book works. Finally. I think it’s more like a ‘novel’ than my first book, but with enough different stories and incidents to make it worth a read. It has an audience waiting, and I’m thankful to all those people who read my first book and have said they’re keen to read book two. But if the publisher says no, for whatever reason, then I’ll have to soldier on, pursing other publishers. That’s hard. I want someone else to love my story enough to publish it. And I’m sure that if that happens, there’ll be another stage of editing to come. However, as far as what I can achieve on my own, I’m nearly done. I feel like the book has ‘come alive’ and it’s ready to go out in the world, without me. I’m sad because I’ve been working on it off and on for four years, even longer if you count the snippets of ideas I’ve played with over the time I was writing book one. The past six months, a sabbatical, has been spent with my head firmly in the past, reliving the experiences of 2001. That’s thirteen years ago, crazy stuff. And I’m about to move away from it. Although I’m happy not to be living in the past, I’m sad I won’t have the sense of purpose that ‘being in the writing zone’ has given me. It’s been intense. I think I’ve got separation anxiety. I should be happy, I’m nearly done. There is a feeling of accomplishment, that I’ve managed to finish what I set out to do. Regardless of what happens next, I did that much. But I’m sad. At least I still have book three to work on. But it won’t be the same as book two; that’s a different tussle, a different headspace. I’ve started book three already, worried that if I don’t get a fair bit down before I go back to work, then once back at the grindstone I won’t manage to get back into the writing headspace that this period away from work has enabled me to reach. It’s like being a juggler, with so many balls needing to be up in the air so I can be in the writing zone, characters, events, tips I’ve picked up here and there, having everything in mind requires a clarity and focus that I’m worried will no longer be attainable. But I’m also grateful, not just for the opportunity to use this time to follow my dream, but also the people it’s helped me reconnect with while trying to confirm details of prices and events that happened, and of the support I’ve had from the selected readers who did get back to me, and the encouragement of others who want to read it when it’s done. So a huge thanks to all those people. THANK YOU! But right now it’s a strange feeling, happy sad, bittersweet, unsettling, that this book is nearly done and is ready to send out into the harsh world of publishing. I wanted to pause for a moment to reflect on that feeling – but also to be grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be where I am right now. Cheers.
Friday, June 20, 2014
Thanks again to Oxford Street Books in Leederville who have just restocked copies of Road Wench. They were the very first bookstore to take copies of my book, and continue to do so. I'm pretty excited that four years on, Road Wench is still selling. It's not a story that goes out of date. Road Wench is also currently in stock at Dymocks, Midland Gate and at Beaufort Street Books in Mount Lawley. Online orders can be made via www.fishpond.com.au or directly to my email. Alternatively the Australian Online Bookshop at http://www.bookworm.com.au/ will take orders and can get stock in on request. Thanks again to all my readers. It's a solitary experience when writing, but sharing my story with you is very interactive, like having one heck of a long conversation. I hope you like Book 2 - Road Wench Rides Again. It's almost ready, not quite but nearly there. Now, back to Draft 5... Shannon Meadows
Where have all the months gone? It feels like they have just slipped away. All too soon I will have to resume my day job, my lovely sabbatical of hours to do with as I wish being almost over. And yet, it has been productive. In March I put things on hold and went on a trip up to Ningaloo. Fresh air, hot days, and time away from writing was exactly what I needed. After the break I managed to resume my writing duties. However, this time has seemed to be the s-l-o-w-e-s-t of all. Drafts 2 to 5 have come and gone, but instead of being enjoyable 'aha!' breakthroughs, a sense of success, it has been a slow and painstaking process. I suppose there was one little moment, a 'that's it, that's what I'm talking about' moment, when the former Chapter 19 (horrid creature that it was) finally bent into shape and became a readable being. I called it draft 2, but really, that was when I knew I had something that I (and hopefully others) would want to read. So why isn't it done yet? What have I been doing with my time? My friends have stirred me up with comments like 'all that free time you've got' and I've managed not to thump them. That's the problem when you're like a hermit, it's hard to reengage with people after all that time spent word-wrangling, alone. They have a point. What have I been doing? Draft 2, as I mentioned, was to get Chapter 19 to the end into the right shape. It was like training for sport, doing laps, until I got it right. Draft 3 was to get rid of all my 'reminders', capitals and 'notes to self' about what to add/check/reword and so on. That draft was sent to some more readers (family got the job of reading and approving Draft 2). Onto Draft 4 - description. I don't like it. I don't read it. Whenever I read a book I skip over the description, to find out 'what happened next'. But if I want to improve my writing, a little description here and there can add texture. So I started. I got halfway then passed it on to two more readers. Then I kept going. Now as well as rewriting and adding in little touches of description, a phrase here and there, I'm also researching. Fact checking. I experienced all the things that happened in the book, but I wanted to take it one step further, and doublecheck my material. For all I knew I had been misinformed the first time. Also I realised that once it's out there, I can't get the book back off readers and say 'hang on, let me change page 45'. Once it's done, it's gone. Out there. So I see this as a bonus, as a way to add more depth to a story which, ironically, I'm hoping is an easy, quick read. It's not like I'm going to get such a chance to do this again, I have the time to do it now. It's just that it takes So Much Time to check anything at all, then the rewrite, a few hours and my mind is scrambled and I'm useless for the rest of the day. Darn brain, it should work harder and for longer. Anyway having said all this, I'm kind of glad I'm doing it. I've added a little on character along the way, but I suspect when I get a publisher they'll have changes anyway. I just wanted it to be as close to the best version I could get it, before I shared it with a publisher. Before the rollercoaster ride begins. So that my vision is clear. I plan to submit it soon, very soon, but right now I'm holding myself back, trying to do these last little bits of icing on the cake. And now, back to researching Chapter 15...
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Once I realised I had a lot to learn, I threw myself into learning with gusto. First I read books about getting published. Then I read books about how to write. Perhaps it would have been better to read these in the opposite order! The best book I came across at this point was by Irina Dunn. The Writer's Guide was available at my local library. Although it was a few years old, and the ebook market was just starting to emerge, it gave a wide range of hints about the path to publication. Another book that came in handy was The Australian Writer's Marketplace.
Monday, March 24, 2014
It was the dream. I had 6 months off work, all above board, approved, work handed over, and a job to return to. For the first time in my life I had long service leave, and my boss had approved me taking it at half pay for twice as long; 3 months became six. 'What are you going to do?' people asked. My workmates were more likely to ask, 'Where are you travelling to?' They looked at me with disbelief when I said I might not travel. It wasn't their fault, I wasn't exactly candid about my goal. I wanted to write my book. And as it was going to be a bit raunchier than the last one, I didn't want to alert them to the fact. But that was my plan. The holidays started well enough, family Christmas by the beach in Lancelin. The days between Christmas and New Year hurried past, shops had sales, then it was the first day of the year. As is tradition with my friends, we dressed up and took ourselves off to Perth Cup. I love the idea of spending New Year's Day in a nice dress, heels, drinking wine and champagne, betting (or my case, donating) on horses and watching them race at Ascot. Afterwards we took the free bus to the casino, and danced amidst the glitz of the revamped venue. What I like most about starting the year this way, instead of having a big NYE, is that I don't start my year with a headache. Okay sure, the second of January may bring a slight dullness of mind, the after-effects of a great day out, but the first day of the brand new year, with all the possibilities before us, that day starts clear headed and dressed to impress. I didn't expect to do any writing on the second of January; that day was designated for Recovery. But I did expect to start writing on the 3rd. Or the 4th. Or sometime the following week. I didn't. What I did instead was plop on my couch and watch some terrible TV for two weeks. Heck the Australian Tennis Open hadn't even started yet, and with friends on holidays I hadn't managed to borrow their promised TV series. I had nothing good to watch, time off, no excuses - yet I could not get myself off that couch. It is, to be fair, a particularly comfy couch. 'What am I doing?' I scolded myself. 'I can't sit on the couch for 6 months. This is not why I got approved for this time off.' It didn't work. Nothing moved me. I surrendered. Then something strange happened. After two weeks of being deathly dull, not even having lunches or nights out to fill my free time and keep me entertained, I was well and truly bored. Completely. Out of my skull. Then two things happened. The tennis coverage started, and I enjoyed it, feeling like I'd played every shot with both players, every match. And I started to jot a few ideas down. I'd had my laptop on my table for the entire two week slothathon, but hadn't used it. The only pivotal thing that happened in that time was an IT friend who insisted on helping me set up my 'new' laptop, the one I'd purchased on the 30 June 2013 in time to include it in my tax return for that financial year, but which had remained in its box until then. He set it up, I left it out on the dining room table, and I walked past it every day for two weeks. But now that the tennis had begun, and I finally had something worth watching, I found that I began to tinker. I opened it. I turned it on. I wrote a few sentences. I moved around a few scenes. I checked the total of pages I'd written so far. I found a freebie minicalendar I'd been given and wrote out a plan. I really didn't want to spend the next month being as slack as I had been in January, so I wrote up aims for each day in February. I decided I didn't have to count it as procrastination until the end of January. I allowed myself the time off to be bored and unproductive. And slowly, bit by bit, I started to work. Until one day I realised I'd missed most of an exciting Nadal match, because I just had to finish the scene I was writing about. 'Just had to'. I have always loved talking about writing, but now, after fits and starts, I felt that inner calling. I was ready. In a nutshell, this is what I've learnt: Never underestimate the power of allowing yourself to get well and truly bored. I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the creative nonfiction writing schools in the USA are in the 'unexciting' interior states, the midwest. Likewise Perth's nickname of Dullsville just might have come in handy. Emptying the vessel makes room to fill it with something else. I was finally in the right mental state to do something about my goal, not just talking anymore.
Monday, March 17, 2014
It's official. As of the end of today, I will no longer be able to shock people when they mention my home internet. 'Just download it,' says one unsuspecting person. As if telling me to go away and do it myself is being helpful. I almost enjoy the sense of what is coming. 'I can't,' I say. 'I only have dial up at home.' You can see the surprise on their faces. Every time, it's the same. Confusion. Dismay. Incomprehension. 'I thought that had gone by the wayside?' one said. 'No. I've still got it. Had it for five years.' That last bit was intended to shock them some more. It works. 'How do you cope?' they say, heartfelt in their angst for me, the digitally deprived. 'I use it at work if I need it. Or I wait.' Wait. That four letter word is the end of them. The conversation stalls, until I take pity and change the subject. So it is with great sadness that I shall no longer be able to use this phrase. I realised that I had slid into the digital dynamic when I noticed my latest monthly internet bill, and worked out that I hadn't actually taken out my landline, stuck it in my laptop, hit several keys and waited for that familiar screeching tone for at least three months. Why not, I wondered. Then it dawned on me that my smart phone, the cheapest, prepaid I could find, the one I got under sufferance so I could stay abreast of the e-tide while not paying a fortune, well it also had a cheap internet option which I had used now and then, whenever I needed it in a hurry. I just didn't need dialup anymore. Not that I'm going to change my habits. Right now, I'm typing this at the local library. But it also got me thinking. I'm having leave from work, with the aim of finishing a sequel to Road Wench. This past month has seen me take the book ahead in leaps and bounds, and I have kneaded it into the shape of a full story. DRAFT ONE IS DONE! I want to call out loud to share my joy at this progress, but I'd better not. As I said, I am in a library. However, the impending cutting of the modem line got me thinking. Maybe my technological home setup has helped me achieve my recent writing goals? I wonder whether I would have got so much done if I had ready access to blogs and research tools online at any minute of the day? I've had to discipline myself, and yes here's that word again: WAIT, so that any online research is kept until the afternoon when I permit myself a library visit. The morning has been designated for writing, the evening I'm allowed to edit if I feel like it, but I've delineated the dead zone of the afternoon when I'm most likely to nap as the only time to go online. And I really think it's helped. So even though my plan is to get better internet access on my mobile, I am going to put that off until later. Once I've rewritten the first draft, and written a synopsis, and so on. I suspect that the latent Luddite in me has been the key to finishing book two. I will miss shocking people with my dial up revelation, but perhaps this has been a more useful revelation about my writing process. That's all for now. The library is about to shut: another enforced deadline.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
When I finally got writing, it didn't take long to complete the book. I started with 144 pages done, and soon made it to page 200, then 220, 240 and so on. When I reached 245 I had a sudden realisation. All along I'd been aiming for around 350 pages, the length that I feel as a reader has given me value for my purchase. Yet I also realised that my story was nearly complete. It flowed. It made sense. It had a beginning, middle and end. The only problem was that it didn't fulfil my initial aim, which was to include all the good bad and crazy stories from across four seasons on the road. My first book was solely about my first season, applying for the job, getting through the training, surviving the first season of tours, getting asked back. It seemed nice and neat to enscapsulate all the other standout stories in one volume. How hard could it be? But the book took on a life of its own, and soon enough it was apparent that I had enough material from my second season (which was, incidentally, far worse than my first season - and probably the reason why it had so much good material to make use of) for an entire book. Once I had this thought, I fought it. I didn't want to accept it. I had planned to write, well to finish, one book over my sabbatical. Certainly not two. But after a few days pondering the problem, I had to listen to my instincts. The story was done, and if I didn't try and fill it out with extra incidents, it meant I could use the extra words remaining to add things like character flaws, brief descriptions of places, interesting titbits. My book was nearly done. The catch - I have to write one more, in order to fit in all the most outlandish incidents. So it's 'sort of' good news. The other problem, once I accepted this solution, was that my first draft FELT finished, but wasn't actually finished. Since then I've spent the past two, three, perhaps more weeks going over it and adding bitsa. Bits here, bits there. Rewording a sentence or a thread of dialogue. Adding in aspects I hadn't covered yet but were integral to that season (such as the outbreak of foot and mouth and how half the clients became vegetarians overnight). Checking whether I could substitute a better word. Checking the flow. Thinking about names that match the character best. Making notes of where I should do extra research and consider adding some history or trivia. Working out which bits are longwinded (like this post!) and how to cut them down. Reordering scenes so they make the most sense, insofar as revealing aspects of life on tour. And so on. This is continuing right now, even though I had a self imposed time limit of March to have the first draft in a readable format. It is readable, it's just that it also includes lots of notes for the handful of people I've coopted to be my sample Readers, and for them to answer as they read through. I've put perfection on hold. I'm happy that the story seems to flow, it works now, the order is fine, and it's self-contained. The rest of the finetuning will have to wait until April. Most writers advise putting your draft in a desk drawer and coming back to it in 3 months time, in order to look at it with fresh eyes. I don't have that kind of time to wait, as I want to utilise the sabbatical period as best I can. However, I will be taking a month, and hopefully that will be enough. What I have learned: The story will tell you when it's done, not the other way round. The need to be flexible and adaptable when the story speaks back. Finetuning is a black hole of time. I've spent almost as much time tinkering as I did writing. And now - time for a break.
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