I was lucky enough, a couple of weeks ago to attend Swinburne University Writing Festival. Being new to this writing game, I couldn’t wait to go and see if I was getting it right. I am about 30,000 words into my novel. To say I was nervous was an understatement, sweaty palms, tummy churning. I drove into the city and completely underestimated the time it would take to get to Hawthorn from Bayside. Amazingly I found a parking space immediately and wasn’t late. I got the lift up to the third floor and was greeted by a warm smiley face, ‘Are you student, lecturer or other?’ she asked me ‘other’ I replied, I’m always ‘other’ through will or circumstance, conformity doesn’t come naturally to me.
As the festival started, my heart was in my mouth, what if nothing they say made any sense and then that awful feeling of, ‘please don’t ask me any questions, what so ever, not even my name, 9×7=?; I never knew the answer to that bloody question. Racing mind, under confident kid at school, staring out the window hoping I was somewhere else. I close my eyes and when I open them, calmness washes over me. I look around; there are all walks of life in here, all ages, cultures, a real melting pot. I relax my shoulders and shut off my annoying child. What Makes a Good Story? The panel are introduced and are all very different from each other. Could it be possible that there is no box I need to try to squeeze into to be a writer, I can just be me? The panel are asked the first question; what book would you take to a dessert Island? The answers come in, ‘Trainspotting’, ‘The Goldfinch’ among others including ‘How to get off a Dessert Island’, ‘Raft Building’ etc. Trainspotting, one of my favourite books, I need to reread it I think immediately; my book has a slight drug theme, perfect. The Goldfinch, I loved it! I have something in common with these published writers.
As I sit making notes about What Makes a Good Story; identifying with the character, suspense, conflict, detail, I am ticking these off as I mentally find them in my book. I let out a little sigh. Oh my god, Yes, Yes, Yes. I have to stop myself spontaneously erupting into a huge orgasm in the vain of Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. All these words are penetrating me slowly and deeply. At the end of the talk, I rush back along the Nepean Highway to do the school run on cloud nine. I had only signed up to day one, but I can’t wait to get home and sign up to tomorrow there is ‘The Perils and Pitfall of Writing a Memoir’. My book started off as memoir and is based on a lot of experiences from my life so that’s a good enough reason to go along surely? I just need to go back there and feel immersed in this writing culture. I scroll along to day three on my phone and then I see it, ‘The Pitch’, my heart jumps into my throat,
‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it, Oh shit, and shit, shit’ I say aloud
‘What is it? Is someone ill?, what’s happened?’ Asks my nine-year old son
‘Oh Goodness, I can’t believe it, Oh No, I can’t’ I say
‘What? tell us?’
‘So this writers thing at the Uni on Thursday, you can pitch your idea, so I’ll have to tell them about my book, I hate speaking in front of people’ I say with a huge grin on my face excitedly.
‘Hmmmmm’ says my son not understanding.
‘I have to do it, I have to tell them about my book, I have to do it’ I say
‘Great, then do it’ he says, things are so simple put by a nine-year old!
‘I will’ I say giving him a hug.
I spend the evening thinking about how to summarize my idea, my book. But also thinking about the person that was writing the memoir back in February. They are a distant memory now and have overcome some huge personal millstones. The next day I go to the Uni a little earlier and sit sipping a coffee, the talk starts with an amazingly strong woman. As I listen, she says exactly how I felt when I started to write, ‘getting to know ourselves as well as our world’. I’m not the same person who sat down in February to work through a stage in my life that I was embarrassed, ashamed and confused about. Only four months on, I feel like an author of a completely different book, a book about courage, facing our truths, and saying fuck it. This is me. I’ve found a different voice; it has stamina and packs a punch.
The panel talk about ‘who owns the story?’ I have thought about this a lot with my own book as there are some truths that although are my own, I would not want to hurt anyone else by publishing. One of the panellists says, ‘I pity the family that has a writer as you steal their narrative’. Everyone sees an event in a different light. All these ideas resonate with me so much and yet I am not writing a memoir, maybe I should be, or maybe that is the next book, not this one? I come away buzzing, going again today was completely the right thing to do, but I feel slightly confused and scared.
‘Oh no that under confident child is coming back, the one that likes to beat myself up for the slightest misdemeanour, let alone the bigger story’, I think.
I rush again to pick the kids up and only just get there on time. In the evening, I go through my pitch, take out any negative verbs, and replace them with certainty. I feel happy and go through the pitch about fifty times until it is etched into my brain.
Typically, I decide to go a different route to Hawthorn today and yep I am stuck in traffic with 5 minutes to go, I dump the car in an hour slot and hope I don’t get booked. It’s raining. I walk into an unfamiliar building and get the escalator up to the third floor, ok I’m in a parallel universe, or this is the wrong Swinburne building. I go back down onto the street and look around, I see the building I need and jog along. In the lift I find a piece of calm and when I get to the third floor, I am just in time, I go to the back and make a coffee, a ritual that yesterday seemed to keep my hands busy and my mind focused. The talking starts and the audience is asked if there is anyone that would like to pitch that they haven’t spoken to. The speaker acknowledges me as I tentatively raise my hand. Immediately my hearts beat has found its way to my ears and I feel the blood rising to my chest and face. The panel are introduced and I feel comfortable that they aren’t scary, just normal people. Others give their pitch and my heart is still racing and then its my turn, I know mine is shorter than the others but hopefully it’s enough. I walk up to the front and I am given the microphone, I have no idea what to do with it and am told to hold it closer to my mouth. The pounding bass of my heart is so loud in my ears and the voice that echoes from the microphone certainly doesn’t seem like mine. I look down at my notes and although I try to make eye contact with the panel, I am secretly hoping my notes will suck me into their world. I finish and take a seat next to one of the panellists, he is smiling and saying good things. I can’t quite make it out, but my hand is frantically trying to take the words from his mouth and write them down. I take my seat and try to breathe, my hands are shaking and I keep nearly losing my pen, I look at my notebook and try to write the comments, eloquent, well executed, liked the ending. I need a tangible hook, be more specific.
On the way home I reflect that I couldn’t possibly give them the whole story but yes I should have told them about Harry, my favourite character who is, being seduced by women everywhere and who I think I’m slightly in love with too! Again I rush back to get the kids but don’t make it in time. As I arrive home it is raining and the kids and I arrive simultaneously at the front door. ‘Don’t you even care about us?’ says my little girl, ‘why didn’t you pick us up, we are all wet now from the rain’ In the morning I explain to my children that I will always be here, but that I want to be a writer too and that they will need to share me with the world. They look at me with wide eyes and wonder. I hope they understand. This is just the beginning.
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