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#9 Son of Hydra's author gets an editor

Shelley Dark author finds an editor!
Where is 2023 going?

Holy schemoly where did 2022 go? And now 2023 is almost gone??? And does it matter? Good health is the only thing that matters a toss, really, isn't it? So I hope you've been having your share. No, let me clarify that statement. Em-dashes matter a toss. And I like to (mis)use them willy nilly. But more of them later. Literally.

Did you make any 2023 New Year's Resolutions? Get fitter? Eat better? Can't remember? Nah me either. I do have a simmering sub-dural list, but I always think that if I take out the scalpel and bring it into the light of day, someone will hold me accountable and I'll have to admit failure. So I keep it hidden. Even from myself.

Shelley Dark author discovers she needs an editor!
is Shelley Dark author ready for an editor?

Hidden, that is, except for one resolution: 2023 is the year of the publication deal. Publish or perish. Print or pop off. I've given it four years of my life. This is the year of FINISH.

a bouquet for followers of Son of Hydra
thank you pressies for you!

But before I tell you anything else, there's something I want to do. I want to thank you. It's has been easier and less lonely knowing you are there, tooting for me. You've stuck with me so far, and it can't have been easy watching this tortuous, torturous and tortured process. So again, thank you.

OK, here we go. First let me tell you the name of the book—unless a publisher wants to change it 🤭—it wouldn't matter if a publisher told me to stick my head in a pizza-temperature oven—I'd do it. Are you allowed to have three em-dashes in one sentence? In here I can. I'm the boss in here.


Yep. That's it. The name of the novel. Son of Hydra. Like it? It's an action love story and I can't wait for you to read it.

To cut a long story short, I am married to the great-great-grandson of Ghikas Voulgaris, one of the first seven Greek convicts in Australia. He came from the island of Hydra, and he was a pirate! I always feel like I should write 'pirate' in about 200 point font. I know! Isn't it crazy? Who ever met a real pirate? How did a Greek boy from the island of Hydra end up in New South Wales as a convict? Absurd.

And my husband John had no idea they were even related until around the end of the 20th century. And it wasn't until 2018, long after we'd retired to the beach from our cattle farm in the bush, that I decided to write the story.

Where Shelley Dark author stayed on the island of Hydra
where I stayed on Hydra

The historic mansion on Hydra belonged to Ghikas' uncle Frangiskos - take no notice of my repetition of waterfront in the caption - I wrote that before I knew stuff.

Fact or fiction? Considering that I knew absolutely nothing about him, and I doubted I'd find out anything more, it had to be fiction. But I love history, so off I went on an adventure. Several adventures actually. If you were travelling with me when I was writing my travel diaries, you might have come with me to Hydra. Then I followed his tale to Malta, and Portsmouth, and Kew, and even Ireland, the birthplace of his wife Mary. And all points in between, in Australia. I breathed archival dust until I looked like a chimney sweep. And wheezed like one.

Ghikas Voulgaris features in Hugh Gilchrist's book Australians and Greeks Volume I
Ghikas features in this book by Hugh Gilchrist.

There had already been plenty written about Ghikas and his mates before I ever became interested in him. There's a whole chapter about them in this tome by Hugh Gilchrist. There's even a musical. But hidden in archives, in old packets tied with string, at the far ends of the earth (for an Australian), in stuff two centuries old, I found information nobody seemed to know. And there were mistakes in what had been written. I was hooked, obsessed. An addict shooting up on research. And I had a lot to learn about Greek history.

Spot the odd man out of Shelley Dark's pile of how-to-wrote books!
my how-to books

spot the one that doesn't belong - it's driving me crazy

that's not all my how-to books - there's lots more upstairs next to my bed

and there's a whole other heap about the history of Greece and Ireland behind me...

But of course, the records don't always tell you why someone did what they did. So I had to make stuff up to fit the facts. And as you know from sticking with me for so long, that I had a lot to learn about how to write, and even more about how to write a novel. Uh huh. You betcha.

Since then, there have been multiple manuscript versions. And I've had enormous help from my writing buddies in the All Write Club in the meantime. They've nursed me through his story, his and her story, his story chronologically, his story mixed up with my research, his story run as a dual narrative. Present tense, past tense. First POV, third POV—Point of View. And of course I pitched it to publishers like a traveller headed to Mount Everest in a swimsuit and rubber thongs. And at various stages, publishers believed my blurb, and asked for the manuscript. And off I sent it. Ooo-wahhh.

Of course it wasn't ready. I kept writing and learning, and learning and writing. Writing and rewriting. And more writing. In the last six months, I've added sub-plots for added complexity, I've begun the story in a different place, I've upped the conflict, upped the tension, increased the stakes, etc etc, and I have a dual timeline. I love-love-love the resolution and the ending. It's no exaggeration to say I have written a million words. But what fun I've had. An absolute ball. I often jump out of bed at 1 or 2 in the morning and write all day and into the next night. Bit mad? Abso-rootry.

Anyway, I thought the manuscript was ready at the end of December, but I just didn't have the confidence in my judgment any longer. I'd been wrong before. I needed someone independent to give me a tick of approval.

Shelley howls for help - she needs an editor!
Shelley howls for help

So I screamed for help. I love that graphic.

Editor Chris Grace does a Superman impersonation!


Chris Grace, editorial genius!
editor superbo CHRIS!

Here he is. Yayyyyyyyy. What a guy!

How did I find him? Well, I had attended and really enjoyed a workshop he had given as Operations Officer at the Queensland Writers Centre. I laughed all the way through the class, and he taught me some excellent stuff. Then a writer-friend Megan told me he was freelancing as an editor. Don't tell him, but then I googled him to make sure he wasn't an axe murderer. Nup. Not yet anyway. Dad, photographer, artist, renowned chef and famous restauranteur. Lately a Masters in Creative Writing. Whoa.

I asked him if he would read Son of Hydra for me. I was as nervous as if I were proposing marriage. Having an editor is sort of a marriage, in a way.

Finding an author is cause for celebration. Being told we will find a publisher: even better!
I'm celebrating!

Anyway—cue my favourite emoji—the wee writer with hearing aids—he said yes! Cartwheel, yackaye, yodel, blow tooters, throw streamers.

Then, while he read it, I bit my nails up to my elbows.

Finally he came back to me. He said it was almost there, but he could see ways to improve it. Small changes, he said, but big effect. I liked that. Better than big changes, small effect. He agreed to work with me.

He is BRILLIANT. And we work together like a dream team. Well, that's my perspective. You'll have to ask him for his. And he makes me laugh. He said a couple of my chapters started like 'wet lettuce'. He writes 'fluff' in the margin, and he doesn't mean good fluff. And sometimes he puts BIG RED HIGHLIGHTER through stuff. That means it's on the nose. And he told me the next time I type 'sparkling' I have to do fifty burpees (like pushups).

Don't tell him, but he hasn't put me off sparkling, or glinting or gleaming. I love those words, and I'm going to sneak a few in when he's not looking. They sound like gold and champagne, don't you reckon?

When Chris highlights something in green, I puff up like a bull-frog.

Last week I thought the end was in sight. But then we had an hour Zoom, and this is what Chris said: "These past narrative chapters I’ve just read are the worst in the book and we need a major overhaul at the end of your alternate pre-NSW chapters. Delete chapter 38 totally. The end of chapter 34 needs to happen at the end of chapter 42, chapter 40 needs to be chapter 34, chapter 34 will become chapter 36, and 32 and 40 will become one chapter and the past narrative will end at 38."

I kid you not. Don't you love him???? I think I must be brain damaged from getting up too early, because I think it sounds really exciting.

So I got up at 3am this morning when I knew I'd be fresh-ish, to think it through. I went back to him with a suggestion for one major difference, and snap—he’d thought of the same thing overnight. So now I’m off and running again, bucket of em-dashes in hand.

Editor Chris Grace and Shelley Dark - getting Son of Hydra into publishable form!
Chris looks at Shelley as if she's a little touched in the head

I might have to pull Chris' fingernails out if he has forgotten he said this, but I'll remind him now—after he first read the manuscript, he said, 'Right. Let's get this thing published.' I nearly had an apoplexy, but I swallowed hard, and nodded calmly as if that was a totally normal thing to say.

Now it's in black and white. No pressure Chris!

So, the end is in sight buddies. I think. Please hang on. Some of you might already have dropped off the perch, and I don't blame you. I feel the same sometimes. But then occasionally I'll read something I've written, and I'll think yes. Yes! Yes! Keep going!

I'll tell you if anything big happens, ok? Now I'm going to em-dash off and see if I can't arm wrestle chapter 34 into place.

This time I'm going to end my post differently. I'll ask you a question instead.

Will you wait me? Please?

Shelley Dark signs off on her latest blog post

Shelley pleads with her long-suffering followers to stick around

shelley dark, writer 

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