Yesterday I visited Camberwell Girls’ Grammar School to speak to the Year 8 students who are studying my novel ‘The Year it All Ended’. They had great comments and questions about the book and had obviously read it very closely. But during question time, a bright-eyed girl in the front row asked an impossible question, or at least one I couldn’t answer on the spot; had a real person inspired the character of ‘Ray”.
For an awful moment, I drew a complete blank. Ray? Who was Ray? The student prompted me – ‘Nette’s fiancé!’ Then suddenly, Ray came pounding to the front of my consciousness. Ray Staunton, husband of Nette Flynn, WW1 veteran who takes his bride to Cobdolga to farm marginal land courtesy of the Returned Serviceman’s Land Scheme. Poor gruff, tortured Ray with his damaged hand that’s missing three fingers, scarred in more ways than one, struggling away on his bleak acreage in the Riverland. How could I forget him? I invented him. I had even cried when I wrote the scene where he held his baby son for the first time.
It doesn’t happen often but, occasionally, I forget some of the minor characters from my novels. It’s excruciatingly embarrassing when it happens during a public lecture. How can a character I’ve created, someone that I have lovingly laboured to bring to life, someone for whom I have created character files and scenes and dialogue, someone who was so real when I was in the thick of the story, how can they disappear into the crowd of imaginary characters at the back of my brain? Other authors have shamefully admitted it happens to them, too, but that’s small compensation.
In the last twenty years I have invented literally hundreds of characters across eleven novels and many short stories and junior fiction titles. Sometimes I dream of them, long after the book in which they’re featured has been published. So there is always a particular sense of shame when I forget one of them. Sorry, Ray.
The Year It All Ended has been honoured by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in their 2015 Book of the Year Awards. It’s been listed as a notable book in the Older Readers category. This is my seventh book to receive a CBCA notables listing – my lucky number! You can read the full list of 2015 Notable Books on the CBCA website.
Creative writing and blogging don’t necessarily have a lot in common. They occupy different head-spaces and require a completely different set of skills. That’s the excuse I’ve been using for posting so rarely in the last year.
My biggest impediment to blogging is that I have been working on two major projects. One, a novel – The Year It All Ended – proved to be emotionally draining and incredibly complex. It was only when an advance copy arrived in the post the other day and I held it in my hands that I could believe it was finished. It will be in bookshops at the beginning of September.
The other project that foxed my blogging ambitions was c0-editing an anthology of speculative fiction (to which I was also contributing). Whenever I thought of posting a blog, the novel screamed out for attention like the most difficult and fractious child imaginable or the piles of notes connected to the anthology would suddenly catch my eye and I’d abandon the idea of a blogpost completely and get back to the grindstone of ‘real writing’.
Is blogging worth the effort when you can be spending your time on creating new work? Yes and no.
I’m not one of those super-organised people that can structure their day into neat parcels. At various stages when working on a novel, I have to abandon everything and throw myself at the project. If I don’t immerse myself in the writing I can’t seem to hold the whole story in my mind. I’ll spend months living inside the novel, then have a necessary break while I work on something else, then go back to the novel again, hammer and tongs, as soon as I’ve caught my breath. There’s been a lot of satisfaction in finishing the latest novel but it was heavy going. I missed the lightness of blogging.
For a writer, blogging offers its own consolations. All writing is a conversation between writers and readers and there’s a satisfying immediacy about blogging that I used to really enjoy. It’s a way of sharing ideas and small inspirations without the high stakes of threading them into a prolonged and exhausting narrative. Since finishing ‘The Year it All Ended’ I’ve been struggling to put my office and my life in order gain. Not every novel that I’ve written has been as taxing as ‘The Year it All Ended’. The fact that its creation coincided with working on editing an anthology meant blogging became an abandoned pleasure.
Watch this space.