A bit of an update on my latest YA manuscript, Ella, which won me a writing residence at Varuna this year. I wrote about winning this in September last year but forgot to say how it actually went.
I chose to go in the first two weeks of May, just as the weather started to get cooler. I hadn’t visited the Blue Mountains (east of Sydney) before, and the little town of Katoomba and the gorgeous surrounds were everything I’d heard of, and more. It’s a beautiful little old town set high in the mountains overlooking the stunning Valley and Cascade Falls. You can feel the history of the place reaching far back to the first inhabitants.
I got asked a lot what the residency involved, so here’s a quick rundown: two weeks of writing, eating, sleeping, walking, reading and talking writing! Yep, heaven for writers, basically. Included in the residency was an hour’s meeting with writing consultant, Dr Carol Major. She interrogated me very gently but piercingly about what my manuscript was about, and what I wanted to convey with it. I blurted out that it’s “about the environment”, which was not what I’d expected to say – it’s an older YA book set on a farm with a practical, hard-working & hard-living farm girl. In that time, Carol gave me much to think about, and a couple of writing exercises to do. When I returned to my writing studio, there was a skink (a tiny lizard) sunning itself on the worn stone doorstep, which I took as a symbol that I was on the right path.
Five writers at a time stay in the old house, with all food provided and the lovely — coming in the evenings to prepare a beautiful cooked dinner each night. No housework, shopping, cooking or cleaning! Let alone a two week break from our paid jobs and/or family routines! Yes, you can see why people line up to apply for this residency 🙂
Writing hours are kept from 9am-6pm so as not to disturb anyone at work, but of course you could pre-arrange to meet someone for lunch or a walk. There was also a lot of chat in the kitchen when making a cuppa or sandwich. We would then all meet in the large library for pre-dinner chat about the day’s work then sit down for dinner around 7pm. Have you ever heard of anything so civilised? And we did talk and talk about writing, reading, writers’ festivals, the publishing industry and so much more. There was a good combination of people of all ages and publishing experience and writing backgrounds, so there was a lot to learn. And yep, a fair bit of gossip that shall remain buried under the ‘what’s said at Varuna, stays at Varuna’ law. It helps that I’m incredibly forgetful, of course 😉
In answer to the second most asked question, yes, I did do a lot of writing but mostly editing – I removed around 5000 words and worked on re-structuring the story. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be immersed in a creative work for a whole two weeks – I thought I wouldn’t be able to make the most of, but it was the right time to work on this manuscript, and certainly the right surroundings. The Blue Mountains is one of the most stunning natural environments in the world (including the valley where they found the magnificent Wollemi pine), and despite the heavy loads of tourists and horribly commercial chairlift rides, the spirit of the places remains.
Since my stay, I’ve been able to finish the manuscript (FINALLY got that structure into place after a lot of hard work!) and send it to my lovely agent, Sally Bird. Happily she liked it, and after I made a few changes, she sent it out into the great big publishing world last week. I have to say that despite getting over ten rejections for my previous (and now shelved) manuscript last year, this is still one of my favourite times when the possibilities seem endless and there’s hope that at least one publisher will take an interest in my book. All it takes is that one person at the right time.
So here’s hoping that my next post will have some positive news, but who knows? Meanwhile I have a very lovely middle-grade children’s book to work on, which I’d love to get out into the world before my younger relatives are too old to read it!