The Query Journey Continues …

June? June? How the heckle can it already be June???

My apologies for my lengthy absence. Busy-ness has struck again … mainly in a very good form.

I’ve been querying my book. I’ve had a few “not quite right for me” rejections, which, call me strange, I did find encouraging; they were complimentary of my writing, and even if the agents were just being nice, it did give me a boost!

However, back in April, I had the exciting experience of opening an agent’s email, one who had requested my full manuscript, steeling myself for another rejection but only to find it was another kind of beast altogether: a request for a revise and resubmit.

As in, she wasn’t quite ready to say “yes” to representing me, but if I was willing to make the changes she suggested, she would have another look at my manuscript and reconsider.

Squee!

No guarantees, I know. But her suggestions make Very Good Sense, and come what may, I’m hopeful I’ll end up with a much stronger book when I’m done.

It’s a lot of work, though. Almost a complete rewrite. So my presence in the blogosphere may continue to be sporadic for a while to come. But it’s all good. And I got to spend almost a whole Sunday writing today, after an Adelaide Hills bush walk through the chilly morning mist, great inspiration for writing about a foggy Victorian London …

MIST

… and then the winter sun popped out to warm my study as I wrote.

WINDOW SUN

Note the blue lump in the window, which is actually a winter-hating cat in hibernation.

All in all, a perfect day! ūüôā

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And what comes next, hey bust a … toe.

As I’ve ¬†bemoaned elsewhere on the interwebs, I have managed to break a toe. The little one on my right foot, and the fourth toe I’ve broken in my accident-prone life, proving yet again that when God was handing out gross motor skills, I was definitely elsewhere. Probably falling off my bike or tripping down the stairs … or violently stubbing a toe. ¬†:-\

According to the doc, it’ll take a good six weeks to heal. I’m supposed to stay off it as much as I can, which you’d think would really make me sit down and write more than ever, right? Well, yes, but I’m also quite amazed at how much a busted toe is messing with my writing.

No, I don’t type with my feet.

What I miss is my daily walk.

Nine times out of ten, when I walk, I’m able to nut out the plot problems that have stumped me, or I suddenly hear those lines of dialogue that are perfectly right, or I’m struck by those “Eureka!” moments when a character suddenly reveals the Really Big Secret they’ve been keeping ¬†… none of which ever seems to come to me through grimly pounding away at the keyboard for hours on end, hoping that sheer “butt-in-chair” tenacity will solve everything.

Nope.

So I’ll have to come up with a substitute for the next few weeks. Some sort of mindless activity where the conscious mind can disengage, allowing the subconscious and all its problem-solving brilliance to come to the fore …

Toothbrushing?

Toilet scrubbing?

Fridge magnet rearranging?

“Keeping up with the Kardashians” watching?

Hmm. The choices are scarily endless.

 

 

 

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Hello from Query Land … and Cats

It’s mid-March, and I’m getting a little bit excited.

I’m about an inch away from finishing a thorough primping of my query letter. The original version was fine, but upon reflection, it really did need a bit of a “tjuz”. As soon as¬†it’s as fabulous as this little black duck can get it, then woosh, out the door it shall go (and thump, shall go my weary head upon my desk).

Then it’s back to working on my short synopsis.

So hard.

So very freaking hard.

At least whenever I look up from my sweat-and-tear-soaked keyboard, I’ll have this ridiculousness to console me:

CATS IN A BOX (2)

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat … erm, box.”

I so want to join them. I bet a cat never had to write a synopsis.

Sigh.

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Port Arthur, Tasmania: Of Ghosts and Despair and Haunting Beauty

Summer is over at last! It was long, and it was hot, and¬†I can’t wait to mothball my shorts and t-shirts and don boots and scarves and gloves once more.

But it was a good summer. Part of it was spent on holiday in Tasmania, “glamping” with the family through the island’s pristine northwestern wilderness (hiking and canoeing, spying Tasmanian Devils and wombats, no phone, no internet, no TV – ¬†bliss!)

And it wouldn’t have been a complete holiday if we didn’t soak up a bit of history, which we did at the penal settlement of Port Arthur.

Port Arthur operated as a prison from 1830 to 1877, housing repeat offenders sentenced to transportation from England for crimes that today seem so very trivial: stealing small livestock, clothing, loaves of bread.¬†We spent the day exploring the sprawling prison settlement in the idyllic surrounds of vast green lawns cooled by an ocean breeze. Buildings such as the Commandant’s House are still standing; others, like the convict-built church and the Penitentiary that housed nearly 500 prisoners, are just skeletal ruins.

PORT ARTHUR - PENITENTIARY

The Penitentiary

PORT ARTHUR CONVICT BUILT CHURCH

Ruins of the convict-built church

The day was gorgeous – a clear blue sky, the warmth of a golden sun on our backs, the tranquility of the surrounding bushland …and the¬†juxtaposition of Port Arthur’s beauty with the incredible suffering that occurred there could not have been more stark.

To my mind, the worst of Port Arthur’s misery was handed out in the Separate Prison.

The Separate Prison was effectively a prison within a prison, with a regime of silent, solitary confinement. Every man who arrived at Port Arthur spent a certain amount of time there based on his original sentence, and those who later reoffended at Port Arthur would be sent back in for more of its punishing system of social and sensory deprivation.

Twenty-three hours a day locked in cells with walls and doors so thick that no noise could penetrate. Exercise taken alone in narrow yards that afforded a glimpse of the sky and nothing more. Warders who walked the halls in felt slippers and communicated in sign language so inmates would hear no sound. Prisoners forced to wear masks when outside their cells to ensure they did not speak. The solitary confinement even extended to the prison chapel, where prisoners stood in coffin-like cubicles that entirely cut them off from one another.

PORT ARTHUR SEP PRISON

Corridor and cell doors of the Separate Prison

There was a theory of sorts behind this cruelty: that silence and isolation would force inmates to “look inwards” and repent their crimes. But the resultant psychological torment was so bad many men simply broke. And despite the concerns of prison chaplains and medical officers, the response was simply to build an Asylum for these poor souls, right next door to the Separate Prison. Once they were deemed sufficiently cured, they were returned to the Separate Prison to start the process of losing their sanity all over again.

Escape attempts were not uncommon. Nor were suicides. There are even stories of prisoners forming pacts to end their combined misery, whereby one prisoner would agree to kill the other, with the survivor then hanging for the crime, thus releasing both from their living hell.

Our day at Port Arthur extended into the evening, when we went on a “Ghost Tour” by lantern light. Walking through the shells of these old buildings in the dead of night was incredibly eerie.

PORT ARTHUR CHURCH AT NIGHT

The ruins of the church at night

Over a thousand people died at Port Arthur during its 47 year history, and our tour guide regaled us with many tales of unexplained incidents and hauntings. Unsurprisingly, the most chilling tale for me involved the Separate Prison.

On two separate occasions, several years apart, a man (a tourist) and later, a woman (an archaeologist working at Port Arthur on a dig) went missing.  The alarm was raised, the settlement was searched and on both occasions the missing  person was eventually located.

This is where it gets creepy.

In each instance, the missing person was found in the Separate Prison, lying on the floor of a cell in the foetal position. Both were in some sort of dissociative state, sobbing and babbling incomprehensibly. Both snapped out of this strange state soon after their discovery, but neither could remember how they’d got there, and both thought they’d wandered off for only a few minutes when in fact they’d been missing for several hours.¬†Neither could remember what had happened to them, but both felt a profound and overwhelming sense of despair.

And both were found in the exact same cell.

Cell number six, if memory serves. After the last incident, it was permanently boarded up.

Our tour guide that night said something about Port Arthur that has stuck with me ever since:

“No one who was here ever wanted to be here”.

Not the convicts. Not the prison officials and military men who were given no choice in their posting. Not their wives and children who accompanied them.

No one.

The prison closed 139 years ago, but the suffering and the utter misery of the place is still so overwhelmingly palpable, like it has seeped into the very walls. Remembering the terrible shooting massacre that occurred at Port Arthur in 1996 makes for an even more sombre experience. I’m glad my husband was there to take photos, for I found I couldn’t bring myself to take a single “happy snap”.

Still. Port Arthur is a place that must definitely be seen. It is hauntingly beautiful. And it serves as a quiet, permanent warning of how just cruel humanity can be.

 

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New Year, New Book.

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions. By my age, they tend to have become a bit repetitive both in terms of content, and in not keeping them.

But I do like to start my new writing year with a clean slate. So behold, the freshly cleaned corner of the room that is almost my own:

desk

 

(In hindsight, the husband really did need to take over the other corner of this room, but oh, the angst of losing supremacy over my domain!)

On the writing front, Book Two of my series (alas, I’ve yet to be struck with inspiration for a title) is coming along nicely. I’ve written the first five chapters (super shitty first draft I’m afraid, but even craptastic words on the page are better than none) and this week I’ve been busy brainstorming and outlining the rest of it. I’m about 70% done in that respect, and am pretty chuffed to have got to such a point at this time of the year. I think my success is due in part to my Christmas presents: the gorgeous big monitor you can see on my desk, and the brand new keyboard that doesn’t randomly lock up. No more stiff neck and strained eyes from looking down at my laptop screen, and far fewer frustrations, all rolled into one!

 

CLOS UP DESK

 

(In case you’re wondering, the image on my screen is an 1894 painting by Jean Beraud, “La Meditation”. She’s always reminded me of my main character, Olivia Stone).

So. ¬†A new year, a clean desk, plot points and plot twists percolating away nicely … all in all, it’s a great start to 2016, and I plan to do all I can to keep things going this way.

How about you? Have you made any New Year’s writing resolutions?

 

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Bigger isn’t always Better

Here in Australia, it’s not only the holiday season; it’s also the school holiday season, and my beloved brood of three is home from school for an entire eight weeks of our summer … meaning I’m smack-bang in the middle of what is always one of the hardest times of the year for me to get words on the page.

Now, my gang are not little kids any more. They’re seventeen, fifteen, and eleven. When they were smaller I used to long for them to be this age, when writing whilst they were home would be oh so very easy.

Ha.

Now, admittedly, writing with bigger kids at home is a little more simple than when they were small. They can all wash/dress/feed/toilet/entertain themselves. They’re all well past the age where participating in suicidal antics – like seeing what happens when you stick a fork in the toaster or the cat in the washing machine or a massive ball of tin foil in the microwave on ‘high’ for five minutes – is all part of a day’s work, so I’m no longer required to be on constant yard duty.

But bigger kids’ needs don’t completely disappear. ¬†They’re just different.

Like needing me to drive them to the movies or the beach so they can catch up with friends. Or helping them work on their resumes so they can search for part-time work. Or sitting in the passenger seat beside my learner driver son, so he can rack up more of the seventy-five hours of driving he needs before he can earn his licence (whilst simultaneously adding to my grey hairs).

They’re also growing like mad, which means repeated shopping trips to pick up new shoes and clothes to replace the ones I bought only a few short months ago.

And then there’s the grocery shopping.

Two teenage boys eat A LOT.

But the hardest part of trying to write with bigger kids in the house really has little to do with any of the above. Despite the different busyness I now face, I really do have more freedom to write than when they were small.

The trouble is, my big kids have become Really Interesting young people. My seventeen-year-old’s opinions on Radiohead and Tarantino movies and the crisis in Syria; the scientific tidbits about quantum physics and space that my fifteen-year-old shares; the madcap stories my eleven year-old writes and sometimes lets me read … they are totally, endlessly fascinating to me.

(I’m their mother. I’m supposed to be ridiculously biased). ūüėČ

Sure, I miss the cuddles and the cuteness of their smaller selves, but this age is terrific. I really enjoy my kids’ company. ¬†And part of me knows I need to make the most of them, especially when I think that in a mere five years time, maybe less, at least one of the threesome might have flown the coop …

Having these fascinating, big kids home all summer means the hardest part about finding time to write isn’t finding the elusive, precious time to escape them.

It’s finding the self-discipline to shut the door on them.

Oh, the irony.

 

THREE AMIGOS

 

 

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Aaaaand … I’m done.

Yes, after an intensive six weeks of butt-in-chair final revisions and edits, I’m very pleased to say¬†The Colours of the Dead is finally done!

(well, as much as any writer can ever say they’re done; the temptation to fiddle is *always* there. No, Rachel, back away from that keyboard NOW!)

ūüėČ

I’ve added an updated blurb and an excerpt under the blog’s “Books” tab if you’d like a peek. And now the next challenge will be going on submission.

Gulp.

Think I’ll take a day to savour the feeling of being finished (that never, ever, gets old) then crack my knuckles and get to it.

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