- Shelley Dark
In Brisbane, I write with my back to the huge fig trees and the river view of fast-gliding city cats, or on the other side, sunlight bouncing off skyscrapers. It's a pretty cool office. I'm not naturally tidy, but the matt-blackness of the vintage desk makes me disciplined—black wooden bowl, sitting elephant, black notebook. The laptop and I are best friends, and I do all my writing on it, but one of my favourite things is grabbing a 1mm black gel pen to make satisfying slashes through my notes. Add a comfort-plus space age chair, and now, joy of joys, a desk lamp: a 1950's-designed Paris number reminiscent of a fashion model with a hat like an up-ended dinner plate... so I have no excuse...
I started researching and writing this novel a couple of years ago. I began with a real story, about two real people in the early nineteenth century, in Europe and Australia. It could have been non-fiction - far easier. I opted instead for historical fiction, and a block-buster best-seller to boot. Hollywood movie and all that jazz. No one said I couldn't.
Occasionally when I think of the 2.2 million books published each year, I do feel a little ridiculous to think I might be one of them. Then there's a mind-numbing realisation that even if it were to be published, it would be sitting underneath the other 2,199,999.
I console myself by saying that I don't care if it's never published. I've had all the fun of travelling for research. Plus how many times in your life have you been dying to wake up, just to get back to work? Where you jump out of bed at 2am because you can't wait until morning? It's been like that since I began. Still going. Lucky huh. I am truly grateful for the joy it gives me, every day. And to be honest, just a little scared about what I'll do when it's finished. But that's a long way off.
As an acknowledgement of the difficulty of writing a best-seller, I've been buying book after book on how to write. One came in the mail today. It's called 'Hooked: write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go' by Les Egerton. In the beginning, it says 'We don't fill readers in on the protagonist's life for the past ten years, we don't describe the village he lives in, we don't describe his crummy childhood.......... look over those paragraphs you wrote......... if your writing resembles what I just described, stick your finger down your throat, and do it. Preferably all over those insidious pages.'
He says that as an agent, he has so many manuscripts to read that he is just dying to find an excuse not to read one. So novice writers must be creative and do anything to hook him right from the beginning.
You see, he tells me that readers today don't want to hear the background first. They have a short attention span. So on the first page of the book, you have to hit them between the eyes. You have to jump in at the most exciting part of the story before they have time to breathe, or shut the book. Strewth.
Rewrite of the rewrite coming up.
Of course if you're a successful author, but only then, you can do what you like...
On a brighter note. Yesterday I wanted to describe the costume of a Chief Justice in 1828. He was also an admiral. Would he have worn naval uniform or judicial gown? I googled it. No answer. Then I remembered. A couple of years ago in my travels, I met author/historian and former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, Dr. Giovanni Bonello. A giant intellect, interested and helpful. I emailed him the question. Not only did he answer almost immediately, he attached a photo of an 1826 painting. Showing the very man I was describing, in full regalia. Judicial robes and wig. What a find. The painting and Dr Bonello.
There is so much to learn about the whole book business, from researching, writing, publishing and marketing. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Thank you for being part of this journey, wherever it takes us. Oh by the way, I'd love you to offer suggestions, or comments, or ask me questions.... except exactly what the book's about. I promise I'll tell you, but just not yet.
I will have to write my pitch first....
I'd better get back to work. Or stick my finger down my throat. Not sure which....
I wait you, buddies.