I haven’t read any of Debra Adelaide’s books, but I was taken by an interview with her in this week’s Spectrum, where she talks about the process of writing her latest book, The Household Guide to Dying. This seems to underline the point I made at last year’s Faithful Writer* about how important time, space and support are to creativity and writing.
…The Household Guide To Dying must have been forming unconsciously for years. By the time she embarked on the novel in 2003, her marriage had ended and she was raising three children – Joe, now 18, Ellen, 15, and Callan, 10 – in south-west Sydney while working as a book reviewer and part-time creative writing teacher. That year she scored a full-time lecturer’s position at the University of Technology, Sydney. Then Callan developed leukemia.
Again Adelaide is adamant that her novel is not about her son’s illness. However, two years of treatment, worry and work left her little time to write. Callan recovered but Adelaide was not sure if her novel would. “I was afraid to look at it because I thought, how can I continue writing a flippant novel about dying when my own son’s been suffering with leukemia? I had to make a decision. So I forced myself to open it one day and I found I could go on with it.”
A small research grant enabled Adelaide to offload some of her teaching last year and meet a self-imposed deadline. “I felt convinced that a book I’d written to amuse myself in snatched time in a little corner of my bedroom – a novel I had to fit into the cracks of my life – couldn’t possibly work.” When she handed it over to her agent, Lyn Tranter, she said, “You’ll probably tell me to go away and give it a decent burial.” Tranter, however, decided to auction the book.
I love that phrase “a novel I had to fit into the cracks of my life”; that’s exactly what it feels like writing my book Undragon Stories. I want to give it more time and space, but feel like my life is so stretched most of the time, there’s nowhere to put it.
Yet every so often I get a little burst of enthusiasm about the book, like yesterday when I workshopped a very small scene I wrote a few weeks ago and felt greatly encouraged by my fellow Word-By-Word writers. I’ve checked out a few grants here and there, because it would be so wonderful to be able to buy a slab of time that I could use to finish the book. But most of the big ones, even if you’re applying for the new or ’emerging’ writers grants, you have to have a certain number of things already published. I’ve had a few things published, but not nearly enough. So how do you prioritise? Is it more important to work hard on a book to get it finished, or to work on shorter pieces you can get published in journals so you can apply for the money to allow you to work hard on the book to get it finished?
At this point, just writing at all is a victory, and I’m happy to claim it.
* by the way, this year’s Faithful Writer conference is coming up on August 2. The keynote speaker is Mark Tredinnick, he of The Little Red Writing Book fame. There will be writing time, workshop time, and some great seminars (Karen and I are running a seminar on Writers and Editors, but we both want to go and hear the others too!). Along with Mark Tredinnick and Greg Clarke, I’ll be reading some of my work at the end of the day. You should come along – register now if you haven’t already!