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  • Shelley Dark

#10 from Sydney skies to publishers' eyes...

Right. Flowers on the desk. Pen and paper. Yep. It's 12.04 pm and it's taken me all day to get ready to start writing. First I lolled about about in bed wondering what I was going to do with my Sunday. Then I remembered I was finishing off this website post!

generated by OpenAI DALL·E—desk with cream bun!

And as soon as I think about writing, I think about cream buns! So off I went to the IGA for a brain boost.

NO CREAM BUNS. Wahhhhhhhhh.

Only pink-icing finger buns. 😣 I nearly hurled myself into the frozen section. So it was a tossup between sour coca cola bottles or marshmallow santas. Ignore the evidence I might have bought both.

See—I've bitten the legs off one Santa already. I didn't feel cruel doing it either. He looks more like King Kong, don't you think? I bought cooked chicken wings for John too, because they're his favourite. So the house is at peace. Writing time.

Then, just to warm up the writing muscles, I deleted emails. You know the ones I’m talking about. How to layer like a fashion insider... double the discount... just landed... Honestly, I go cross-eyed. And I hate deleting the ones that are chock-a-block with essential knowledge about the craft of writing novels.

So here I am, ready to write, even doing that thing where you lace your fingers and stretch them out like a bonafide author. But knuckle-cracking? You know how they do that? Ergggh.

First off, a colossal thank you to Chris, my fantastic editor extraordinaire. Remember him? He and I rolled up our sleeves and starting last January, and together we scrubbed, polished, and readied my manuscript for its maiden voyage. (Brace yourself for the nautical metaphors – I've become quite the sailor... in my mind.)

By the end of May, ten thousand words lighter and totally reorganised, the manuscript felt sleeker, its narrative sails taut and crisp—tied up at the dock, but ready to embark on an unpredictable voyage to publication.

But that's where it gets a tad choppy...

After we finished, the first thing Chris suggested I do (after he said he thought he'd retire from editing—it wasn't my fault, I promise! 😂) was give the manuscript again to several brave souls (or beta readers as they are called) to take it for a test sail. The good news? It didn't sink—praise flowed in. One bloke read it in three days. But there was an odd ripple that made me uneasy. I'd asked them to be brutal, but...

I took the comments on board, and made some changes.

Three months of writing later (yep, quite a few changes), and feeling emboldened (or perhaps over-caffeinated), I held my breath and submitted to one major publisher and one smaller one. I thought I'd die of a heart attack when I saw their two names come back into my inbox. But these were the results: ‘a strong read, but unfortunately...’.

Yep. And the next one: ‘unfortunately I can’t make this work with our curated list...’ That word, both times. Unfortunately.

Kind of like receiving a beautifully wrapped gift box, only to find a dead fish inside. Well, not stinky dead. But definitely lacking in energy. I was hoping for a tiara and shimmering gown for the ship's ball. 😉

However, I'm a bit like one of those weighted Russian dolls that always come back upright. My resilience intact, I grabbed the manuscript by the title, and dived back in. No matter how many authors say they've been rejected umpteen times, I can't help thinking if a novel is beyond FABULOUS, any publisher would say yes. (Ignoring the J K Rowling story and all the others.) Our daughter, having taken nearly a year's hiatus from the tale, yet again offered a refreshed perspective (bless her cotton sox!), as did another lovely soul totally unfamiliar with Ghikas' escapades—John's read the story so often he says he has 'spongy-brain'.

And I said BE BRUTAL PLEASE. They promised.

Meanwhile I went to a publishing workshop at Ultimo Press in Sydney, where I gleaned a few more words of wisdom (on top of the fifty billion others I've read since I started this caper)—publisher Alex Craig said something to me—80% of books are bought by women. Even if they're being bought FOR a man. Women are the buyers. Nothing I hadn't heard before but sometimes, a penny drops. It was clear (as clear as it ever has been that is...) that the romance started too late.

So I put all the feedback together, along with advice from my writing buddies in my All Write Club writers' group. I don't know if I would still be writing, if it weren't for them (or you). This is what I did next:

I gave my main man, Ghikas, a charisma boost (I hope). I introduced Mary earlier—a real challenge, because I’m the original purist with historical fact and have refused to manipulate dates for four years. Nup, I decided I had to do it. Just one little date. I adjusted a little for social class sensitivities at the time. And I fanned the flames of conflict further in the NSW chapters. And I let Ghikas examine his bellybutton a bit more (metaphorically of course—ie he became a tad more introspective).

You know me as far as not doing things by halves—it's a hell of a business being a perfectionist—I essentially rewrote the whole thing in two months, using the conference in Sydney in late October as my deadline. And I 'lost' another ten thousand or so words.

Drumroll please... Half way through October, I slapped a big ol' 'DONE' on what could be the last draft of my novel!!! 🎉 🎉 🎉

Yeeehahhhhhhhh! I LOVE that lil cutie with the hearing aids!

So, at the Historical Novel Society of Australasia conference, when it came to those nerve-wracking face-to-face pitching sessions, my pulse was in overdrive, powered by jets of adrenalin. Picture giant Penguin, Allen & Unwin (Australia's biggest independent), and relative newcomer, Pantera. And me. I mean to say—whoaaa.

Do I have the novel for you!

Written a novel? Noooo... not me...

On the surface, I might have seemed like the picture of poise, but beneath the facade? My heart was practically leaping out of its cage, and all I wanted was a warm shower and a lie down with the curtains drawn. But I grabbed the yardarm or something, and pitched like a demented goat trying to sing opera, and to my relief, they all said yes! I held back a triumphant banshee scream as I exited, reminding myself that their appreciation of my pitch has to be matched by their enthusiasm for the manuscript.

So here we are—the waiting game is on. Again. Three publishers and an agent have my baby in their hands. And yes, I do have a shortlist of others for the next round of submissions. But for the moment, I'm simply pausing, taking a deep breath. Can’t put all my eggs in one basket at the same time, right? If I did I’d be mixing my metaphors worse than I already have in this post!

Wrap-up & What's Next?

Can you believe this wild ride started back in 2018? To all of you legends who've been with me through every stumble and leap, seriously, hats off to you—it's been a marathon! You probably could have penned your own series of novels in the time it's taken me to get here.

But I'm so lucky to be living the dream. There's a fire in my belly that I wouldn't trade for the world, and I'm endlessly grateful to all of you riding along.

I'm pressing the pause button for a couple of weeks now: between writing this post and a touch of Insta-plotting, I might shock my writer's body with a few exercise challenges. I'll also test my endurance with a touch of self-indulgence (think facials, massages... mmmm) while playing the waiting game on the publishing front. And patience isn't my long suit. Oh well, maybe it is.

After that, I'll start writing Mary's version again. So there you have it buddies. The latest chapter in my journey. But the story is far from over.

You've stuck around so far. You wouldn't ditch me now, wouldja????

Hope you are enjoying good health, and doing what you love doing. And I'll let you know first, if anything happens. As Ghikas would say, I wish you fair winds and following seas. And as always, big hugs, and you know I wait you.


shelley dark, writer 

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