Late last year I was granted a two-week residency at the KSP writers’ centre in the Perth hills, a Fellowship to be taken in July 2017. I was thrilled. It felt like a massive validation for my work-in-progress. Potential was recognised. I’d had a few successes with my short fiction: some published, others having won or been short-listed. But the Fellowship was a hearty pat-on-the-back for my novel-to-be!
Now at the half-way mark of my residency I take a moment to reflect on my first week of the Fellowship – what I have achieved and what is left to do:
At the end of another gruelling day editing my manuscript, I stand outside my little cabin in the chill night air, the twinkle of Perth’s city lights in the distance. In terms of writing, my first day was a right-off. After a 4am start from Melbourne it was about emptying out from the busyness of the proceeding week (month/year!), arriving, settling in and adjusting to the slight time difference. And reading. On the plane, I’d completed Mark Brandi’s wonderful Wimmera and by the time I landed in Perth I’d read half of Jane Harper’s The Dry so I gave myself permission not to write that first day and read it to the end. Two stunning debut novels. What a great start to my residency!
Since then I have worked hard. Sometimes ten-hour days interspersed with long walks in the John Forrest National Park, or to stave off cabin-fever, several shorter walks each day.
One of my aims for the Fellowship was to focus on the ending of my novel, the last 4 or 5 chapters. For two days, I did exactly that. It was satisfying. I shifted gears. Dug deeper. Even came up with a possible new title for the book.
The highlight of those couple of days was lunch at a nearby art gallery/café with Rashida Murphy, author of the incredible novel The Historian’s Daughter.
Happier with the ending of my manuscript and after playing yet again with the opening scene in the first chapter, I emailed the document to a tech-savvy friend who sent it back to me as an MP3. The recording was nine hours and fifty-one minutes. I listened to it in blocks of time: a one hour stint, three hours and so on, all the while reading from the hard copy and highlighting sections I would later work on. It was tough, not least because the voice was an American ‘woman,’ robotic and somewhat lacking nuance. That said, it was incredibly helpful. I’m a compulsive editor and find it almost impossible to read a sentence/paragraph/page/chapter let alone an entire manuscript without getting bogged down. The recording forced me to plough through. And plough I did! It took the best part of two-days.
Then a welcome break with UWA Publishing hosting the WA Writers Professional Development Day. Talking all things publishing were key industry folk and writers including (left to right) Amanda Curtin, Rashida Murphy and Josephine Wilson. It was an excellent day. Generous and truly informative.
Since listening to the recording I have returned to the soft-copy to tweak or feed in a new thread hoping I don’t cause a pucker. It’s time-consuming work and takes longer than you expect. Like renovating a house, or painting a room. The tradies don’t turn up. The colour of the paint isn’t quite right. But sometimes you stand back and it looks just right.
In the remaining six days of my residency I hope to nudge the manuscript into readiness for the next stage. I need to birth this thing. After six years, please tell me the cervix is close to being dilated!
I also hope to work on two short stories though that remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, I’ve read late into the nights finishing Jane Rawson’s incredible From the Wreck, picked up where I left off from Big Little Lies and I’m now half-way through Skylark by Kate Mildenhall. Amazing books, all of them. A few social events too: on Sunday night, some of the local KSP Fellows and our current Writer-in-Residence gathered at a local Indian restaurant. Tonight, a literary dinner at the centre, a Christmas in July theme with readings by Lee Battersby and a roast dinner for 29 people cooked by the KSP board members! It should be fun.
Away from the usual juggle of life, the myriad things we tackle in a day, this pocket of time in my gorgeous little cabin with the magpies chortling in the gum trees outside my window is incredibly nurturing. I feel blessed.
Tunnel, Heritage Railway Line, John Forrest National Park