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  • Shelley Dark

#12 Plotting Publication & Planning a Pilgrimage

from inception to publication...

Hey buddy,

Long time no speak! And you've been so patient. You deserve these roses... awwww.

Seems about a million years ago I decided to write a novel. Very much like seeing a land mine lying in my path, and deciding to step on it anyway. -:)

But, it hasn't been all tragedy. I've completed enough words for about 3 x 100,000-word-plus manuscripts. Most publishers would consider a novel as big as that, by a debut author, a tragedy in itself.

But now it's a slim, athletic, 90,000 words. Perfect!

I’ve felt you there holding my hand every day (I put my hands over my ears when you said wtf is taking you so long), while I typed draft after draft after draft, revision after revision. Maybe you sighed just a little as I toggled between popups—traditional, self-publish... eenie meenie...

But time's not hitting pause while I make up my mind, and my brain is overloaded with more stories begging to make it onto the page.

And believe me, my heart is set on sharing Son of Hydra with you sooner rather than later.

Sooooo... this is the latest.

Remember I pitched to a few publishing titans at that historical fiction conference last year? They all requested the manuscript. Then... radio silence. Maybe it was the haircut, or the green suit. Or maybe they couldn't lift it...

But rather than prodding them (as they say you should after 3 months) to ask if the manuscript had slipped down between the sofa cushions, I asked myself this question.

Are you sure 'Son of Hydra' is good enough?

You know me. Apart from needing a sanity check, I had to be sure, once and for all.

Enter an editorial guru whom I won’t name because I haven’t asked if she wants to be splashed across my website. She’s brilliant—as was Chris—both different, both essential. She’s been a senior editor at one of the big five, has worked as a commissioning editor; now teaches editing at a university, and her client list is a who’s who of the major publishing houses and literary agents and some pretty hard-hitting authors.

Her verdict?

She said she ‘found Son of Hydra evocative, persuasive and compelling.' She said, 'This is a complex novel, with dual timelines and considerable historical detail; and yet you’ve managed to shape a story that feels propulsive, focused and effortlessly engaging. Well done!’

She also said, 'I was captivated by Ghikas' story from the very first sentence, which sets him up as an intriguing character with a strong, self-aware voice. The narrative is well-paced, filled with incident, and infused with compassion and affection for your characters.'

Cue me doing a V for victory!

Hang on! There’s more! I’m floating at this point! She thought the pacing was spot on—'narrative threads are compelling and propulsive’. And Mary? 'I love your portrayal of Mary; such a feisty and independent-minded woman.' My prose was ‘fluent and evocative’ with ‘scenes rendered in vivid detail.’ At no time, she said, did the narrative sag.


She suggested a few improvements which I’ve since made, but her seal of approval was a high-five for my writer's soul, confirming that my sweat and tears (and countless cups of coffee) have sculpted a story that's ready to strut its stuff. I feel a tad more legit as an author, and I’m surer than ever that Ghikas and Mary have earned their place in Australian history.

And the darling has pointed me towards a few specific publishers.

And I've pressed send. Oooo-wah.

Exciting Update: Just as the momentum seems to be creeping up a notch for Son of Hydra, more fantastic news. I’ve been published in Neos Kosmos, the largest Greek Australian newspaper. You, lucky duckies, can read it HERE—but don't forget to come back, because I have more to tell you! And I want to hear what you think, in the comments!

Did you notice it says publication in 2025? That's definite!

While this writing stuff was happening, and inspired by our recent family trip to Vietnam, I started planning a literary pilgrimage from 26th April, mainly to return to Hydra. That's where Ghikas came alive for me in the dead of the European winter in 2018, where I met Maria Voulgaris, Ghikas' niece, and so many other wonderful locals. If you subscribed to my diary, you'll remember how each Hydriot cobblestone, every sea breeze, whispered their secrets...

But first, let's spring off in Paris—let's write on our serviettes at La Closerie des Lilas, inhale a coupe de champagne at Bar Hemingway at the Ritz, have a raucous reunion with fellow scribes from a 2016 Paris travel writing course. Stroll the boulevards with Parisian friends and family. And if all that 'green fairy' absinthe drives us mad, we can explore the intricacies of the human psyche, starting with our own!

Then for a Tuscan Renaissance in Florence, where we’ll join Lisa Clifford at her sublime writing retreat—set in the splendour of a city that once overwhelmed French author Stendahl to the point of literal collapse, overstuffed with culture and art. We'll take inspiration from ducking into shadowed alleys that spill into sunlit piazzas—so inspired that setting and character will simply ooze from our nibs onto the marbled page... And when we're sick of dolce-ing our vita (never!), we'll work on Mary’s story.

We'll hop across the Adriatic to see dawn over the Acropolis—and Mister Mavrideros, I hope. We'll leap onto the ferry to Hydra to see cousin Maria. And another writing retreat—this one organised by a US company. And before we leave the island, we’ll stay in a mansion right on the harbour that once housed Ghikas’ uncle Frangiskos-—said to have an historic library. And the cherry on top (have to slip in a cliché or two!): reuniting with John's colourful relatives—that’s sure to be an adventure in itself!

Then, back to Paris for the grand finale, infused with a dash of whimsy: a night in Oscar Wilde’s hotel room! We’ll explore his letters, his unpaid bill, and even examine the quality of his umbrella.

I’ll show you the peacock wallpaper behind his bed—the very one that made him declare, 'Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.'

And as you probably know, the wallpaper won. I'll give it more of a fight.

I have one of his quotes on the front page of this website—dating from when I first wrote for those of you who came on my travels: 'I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.'

You in?

OK buddies, let's live out the adventures usually reserved for my characters. And who knows—maybe, if I return looking like a Paris mannequin, hordes of agents and publishers will be thronging at the exit barrier, waving big fat contracts.

Don’t say I don’t keep you entertained. Even if it’s six months between instalments... Go on, pack your bags. Fill them up with enthusiasm.

You know I always wait you! Let’s do this!

ps. The cartoon me? Created with AI. I used Dalle-E...


shelley dark, writer 

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