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Posts Tagged ‘struggling writers’

super moon in starry sky on sea

 

Nine years ago or thereabouts, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran a short story competition with a first prize of $5,000 and guaranteed publication in this most circulated of Australian women’s newspapers. Being a writer and thus financially on the rocks (I figure I’ve made about $8 a week from my writing over the last 20 years, and that’s a high-end estimate), I decided to enter. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought there’d probably be a short list and the stories on that would be offered publication. And the Women’s Weekly pays, baby, pays.

So I sat down and sweated out a story of 5,000 words and sent it off. Months passed. Eventually the result was announced, but Danny Margaret had scored zero, zilch, and there didn’t appear to be a short list. Well, I thought, so much for that, and I put the story away in the proverbial bottom drawer.

Five years went by. One day (I must’ve had nothing better to do, perhaps it was the wet season) I pulled the story out and reread it. It’s not bad, I thought. Very Women’s Weekly – what a shame it didn’t get anywhere … Then I remembered Australian writer Marele Day saying once in a writing workshop that magazines were always looking for Christmas stories. They were drowning in the other kind, she said; but they were always short of Christmas stories. Hmm, I thought.

At the time my finances were in worse-than-usual disarray. Publication in the WW would sort all that out. O-kay. There was just one hitch: My story wasn’t a Christmas story. To solve this problem, I had the main character’s daughter refer to Christmas in an already-existing phone conversation and I had two people the main character passes on her way to the beach wish her a Merry Christmas. That’s all I did.

By now, my CV had filled out, and I had a little more confidence than I’d had in earlier years. I approached the editor of the Women’s Weekly by email, gave her my CV and a 3-line synopsis of the story and asked if she’d be interested in reading my “Christmas story”. Next thing I know I’m being offered publication in their 2010 Christmas edition.

The moral of this monologue is: If you put a short story in a competition and it doesn’t get anywhere, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is being published. Craig McGregor told me this way back in 1979, but I didn’t take any notice. Besides, being a single parent, I needed the money that comps could provide.

Now here is “Stella by Starlight” minus the Merry Christmases. I’ve also made one other change, transforming the main character from female to male, to fit the story into the collection I’m publishing next year. Everything else, though, is the same, and the theme and moral of the story are unchanged.

Sales points for “Stella” are below. I hope you enjoy it. I wish I could provide a direct sales link to Apple, but I’m digitally disadvantaged.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

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During my latest stint of two weeks without a computer (the pedal-driven, twig and raffia monsters I work on have a habit of breaking down regularly), what with the rain coming down incessantly, I had recourse to a number of books in an effort to save my sanity. I read T C Boyles’ The Inner Circle, Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost (big books, both of them) Joe Orton’s Diaries (he was killed by his lover, remember?), Christopher Isherwood’s A Meeting by the River, and on and on. And on, anything to try to save my sanity. These books don’t reflect any pattern; I’m not a planned reader, I read anything I fall over or that people lend me. Being obsessive by nature, I dare not make a reading plan, find it wiser to keep myself open to whatever reading matter comes along.

The last book I read before the snowed tech finally got around to me was The Journals, Volume 1 by John Fowles, another big book, edited by Charles Drazin from the raw material of Fowles’ diaries, over two million words covering the period from 1949, when he was in his final year at Oxford, to 1965, when he’s wrestling with a lucrative offer from Fox Studios for The Magus.

Fowles, c. 1952

Fowles, c. 1952

These days, Fowles is well known for The Collector, The Magus, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, all of which were made into films, but being unknown as a novelist myself, I found most interesting the period in which he was struggling and unrecognised. I thought other indie writers might enjoy reading a bit about this part of Fowles’ life too, so I’ve included a few lines from The Journals below:

25 August 1956

Halfway revising The Joker —  now The Magus. The construction is all right. But [there is] constant slipping down in technique; invasion of cliché. I have to treat each sentence drill-fashion. Is it necessary? Is it succinct? Is it clear? Is it elegant? Has it clichés? It usually has.

10 May 1958

Creation by effort; it is despised. What is admired is the ‘natural’ genius of the ‘born’ artist … myself … I seem to have endless obstacles to overcome — laziness, doubt, slowness, the cliché — so that if I finally achieve anything … it will be in spite of myself; self-taught, self-made. And no aid from the bloody muses.

About his poverty:

4 May 1958

Rent increase; already they take five guineas a week. Now it’s to be six. We shall have to leave. It’s too much to lose each week, even with E [his wife] working as she is now, fulltime …Poverty is now part of me … There is still very little I would (indeed could) do for money; but sometimes the strain rises above the surface of my acceptance. The great black wall to wall … poverty that we have had for the last four or five years; we swing from Friday [his payday as a schoolteacher] to Friday. Like squirrels on the run; it doesn‘t do to think of a branch or Friday giving way.

When he finally makes it with The Collector in 1962, you heave a sigh of relief. Some of the first things he buys are an overcoat and a suit for himself, an outfit for his wife, a secondhand camera, a coffee table and some secondhand chairs. Touching. (Though, upon reflection, you begin to wonder just how Fowles defined poverty when he and his wife were both working fulltime before his breakthrough, and they had no children. But let’s not ruin the story; perhaps the rent they were paying was exceptionally high for the times.)

For any writer out there who is currently struggling and unknown, the journals give a glimpse into the problems of a writer whom we all think of as having made it, and just a taste of his struggles AFTER he’s made it, the terrible script conferences where he tries to hold on to the integrity of his work in the face of Hollywood’s dollar worshipping producers.

The Volume 1 Journals end where he’s bought his place Underhill at Lyme Regis, and has just accepted Twentieth Century Fox’s offer for The Magus of $7,500 for the option, $92,500 on exercise of the option and $10,000 for a treatment. I couldn’t relate to those figures and, as I imagine Volume 2 will be his life after fame has hit him, I don’t think I’ll be taking it on. Still, Vol. 1 is an interesting read for struggling writers, and aficionados of Fowles.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, by the way.

 

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