The Making of The Ninth Hunter

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I’ve recently published my fifth novel. It’s no longer an idea, a dream, a goal or (and I hate to admit this) a frustration. It’s a book. I can hold it in my hand and flip through all those pages—the thousands of words neatly printed, side by side, barely representing the agony I went through to get them there.

Now that it’s over, I can finally sit back and congratulate myself for making it. Because until publication day—the finish line—everything else is just one tiny step in an impossible journey. And no matter how many times you’ve done it before, it doesn’t get easier. Of course, there are elements of certainty that only experience can bring. Like knowing you have the resilience to make it through the drafting phase and various edits, but with that experience also comes expectation. Because you’ve done it before, you expect yourself to do it faster, you want your characters to be stronger and your plot to be a thousand times more intriguing. But realistically, every book is different and they can’t be written the same way.

If I’d gone into this book with that in mind, perhaps I would have saved myself a lot of frustration. But if I’m being honest with myself, there’s truly no point working within your capabilities. How will you ever grow if you don’t stretch yourself?

Where it all began…

So back on June 6th 2013, I started working on my humble little ghost story. I’d recently fallen in love with ghost stories and plots that moved away from the mainstream concept. Like Anna Dressed in Blood and the Graveyard Queen Series. I took inspiration from those stories and set to work on my own book, using the well known concept of ghosts and twisting it into my own unique mythology.

I didn’t want to write about ghosts of dead people who linger around earth until their unfinished business is settled. What if instead, ghosts were an extension of the human psyche? Ghosts of the living, who have the power to manipulate and destroy human lives. Wouldn’t they be far more terrifying?

I wrote extensive notes about world building and really focused on creating a strong main character with an intriguing struggle. Daniel Barrow, a young man with a sad past, who’s evolved into a ruthless ghost hunter. I fell in love with the idea of a character who could be a complete badass and a competent killer, but who also has a unique vulnerability. He’s done terrible things but ultimately has good intentions, and he’s fighting for a noble cause.

Out of all the characters I’ve written, Daniel instantly became my favourite. Although I can’t directly relate to the horror of his past, I think we’ve all felt trapped by some element of our lives before. And while he accepts his dark fate, it’s his ongoing struggle for identity that really brings him to life.

When it got tough…

I’ve drafted novels in as little as four months before, but this book, this neat little package of pages, took a whopping 2.5 years from concept to publication. And to be honest, I truly resented the time it took while I was stuck in the middle. But now that I’m finally at the end, I can see that it took so long because it’s far more than one novel. It’s an entire education. I learnt so much in the process of creating this piece, from the fortnightly critiques from the ever inspiring Ellenbrook Writers Group, the seven beta readers who pulled this book apart and helped me glue it back together, the professional content editor and the TWELVE rounds of editing it took to get to the finished product. In the process of writing this book, I became a real writer, and there’s a whole team of people who supported the process. They know who they are, and I’ll never forget their lessons!

Aside from the technical elements of writing, I had a few personal speed bumps along the way too. And I can assure you, dealing with a complicated mythology is hard enough when you’re spending regular time working on it, but any extended breaks you have, make it virtually impossible to remember your place and they’re a huge step backwards! So add into the mix, a year of living packed to the rafters with five adults and a baby (let me add, it was a beautiful distraction to be surrounded by family and to watch my niece growing into a little lady), a house move and six months of hideous migraines, I lost my place time and time again and there were days where I really didn’t know how this book would ever be finished. But I slowed down and stopped expecting so much from myself. Gradually life got easier. I chipped away and I called in encouragement whenever I needed it. I finally finished this book and proved to myself that being passionate about something is always stronger than any obstacle.

The result…

The Ninth Hunter ebook cover

Before I started this book, writing had always been a solo venture, but thanks to my writers group, I’m now surrounded by a wonderful group of extremely talented authors. These amazing people taught me how to use the English language in ways I hadn’t thought of before, they allowed me to understand how readers really think, they encouraged me when I struggled and were hard on me when I needed to be shown the truth. They’ve made me tougher, and wiser and one billion times better at doing what I love. And six weeks post publication, the response to The Ninth Hunter has been overwhelmingly positive. Every time I read a review that talks fondly about Daniel and his struggle, I smile and think, that’s my struggle too.

 

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I’m A Writer, And It’s Time To Soldier On

743999b762023e24ec8c8912992be61eYears ago I saw a documentary on SAS training. During the interviews one soldier said when you feel like your body has given absolutely everything it has, you’ve actually only used 30% of its capabilities. That concept has stuck with me, reminding me that most battles are lost within the mind not the body and whenever I feel like I’m ready to give up, I quietly tell myself, I have another 70% to go.

This idea applies to so many things in life but when it comes to writing a novel, you really have to reach within yourself, pull out everything you have to give, and then some.

People often ask about the challenges an author faces. They’re curious about the daily hurdles, the hunt for inspiration and the motivation to continue working on the same project for years. It is hard but sometimes those three words aren’t enough to explain the enormity of the task. So I wanted to give you a snap shot. To show you the true magnitude of how deep we need to dig as authors to make it through some of those last obstacles.

I’m 2 years into my current writing project, The Ninth Hunter. And the truth is, this is the hardest book I’ve ever written. But it’s not the first time I’ve said those words and it certainly won’t be the last. Which is a good thing. It means I’m pushing myself, I’m learning and I’m getting better at this job every day. But momentum is everything in this craft and this is officially the longest time I’ve spent on one novel. Why? Mostly because of challenging and adapting life circumstances that couldn’t be avoided. All those hiccups dragged me away from the book and made it harder to keep my head in the game. And when you’re working slowly, your perspective warps and it’s easy to lose consistency with your characters and plot.

Despite the hardships, I powered through. Over two years, I submitted 24 chapters of this book to my writers group and received detailed critiques from lots of talented people. I went through their suggestions fortnightly and updated my novel every step of the way. I finally completely the draft. I read the book from start to finish and rewrote my female character. TWICE. I sent the book out to 6 beta readers. I evaluated their feedback and edited the book once more. Then I began my last edit. The final step, the search for spelling and grammar mistakes. The sense of completion drew near, and I was more than ready to let this book go. It had been a long journey, but I’d given everything I had.

Then I received final notes from a seventh beta reader and a couple of significant flaws were brought to my attention. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a crushing moment for me. Not because the feedback was harsh—it wasn’t. The review was honest and constructive but experiencing that shift from visible finish line to realising the marathon wasn’t over was a difficult moment.

At first, disappointment took over but within a few minutes I realised how grateful I was to have a friend tell me what was wrong with my book before I published it and got bad reviews. And I had no doubt in my mind where I would go from there. I didn’t work for 2 years only to ignore a problem and release work that could have been better. If I didn’t fix the flaws, all the time I’d already invested in this book would be wasted.

So today, I’m back at the writing desk. I thought I’d reached my limit but now the challenge has kicked in and I know I have another 70% to spare. Ultimately, this is what I love about writing. I love how it replicates life, throwing curve balls and forcing you to push yourself right to the edge. And to the seventh beta reader, if you’re reading this, you already know how grateful I am for your help. It’s too soon to say exactly how long it will take me to patch up the holes, but there’s no doubt this book will be better because of it. Thank you!

‘Writing’ – It’s Not A Dirty Word

SecretsI have an author facebook page, a twitter account, a blog and four published novels—you’d probably feel safe in assuming I love to talk about writing … almost, but not quite.

I view writing as a little gift to myself and I’d been working on novels for years before I made it public knowledge. Initially I was doing it just for fun and didn’t imagine it going anywhere but it wasn’t long before I fell deeply in love and I realised, if I wanted to be an author, it couldn’t be a secret anymore. If I truly wanted to be happy and satisfied with my purpose in this world, I needed to allow this passion to cross-over into every aspect of my life. It was the only way to become the person I need to be.

So I started telling people and slowly let my writing travel a little further towards friends and eventually strangers. It’s been quite a journey to publication and the response from family, friends and random people I meet day to day, has been positive. In fact, overwhelmingly positive! So why do I still cringe when people ask me about my books and I’m unprepared?

I’m not entirely sure but I guess some part of me will always view writing as a secret just for me. Almost as though indulging in conversation about it somehow subtracts from the reason why I write. It feels a bit like I’m seeking affirmation when in fact, it truly doesn’t matter whether people know about it or not, I’ll always be a writer. I think a contributing factor is the enthusiastic reaction I get when I tell people about my books. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an absolutely amazing thing, but people tend to get really excited and throw lots of accidental compliments out there. That’s when I get really shy and self-conscious. Consequently, I’m a bit guarded about my real life. When I meet strangers and they ask what I do, I generally tell them about my day job rather than the thing that really fuels my ambition. Eventually I warm up and tell them the truth, but that could be anywhere from minutes to weeks into our friendship.

Maybe you’re reading this and realising it all makes sense. The way I confessed my love for books to you and then turned bright red and quickly tried to deflect the conversation. But maybe it isn’t as bad as it seems. I’m gradually beginning to understand the reaction from strangers actually has very little to do with me. People don’t gush because of my personal story, they gush because everyone can identify with the idea of following a dream. Isn’t that what we all want out of life; to love something so much we’re willing to sacrifice money, sleep, social interaction or whatever else it takes? People are excited because hearing your story makes them realise you don’t have to be extraordinary to follow your passion. All you need is an idea and to take a chance. Committing yourself to a dream is never self-indulgent it’s enriching and there is no reason I should feel self-conscious about that. Sometimes understanding the motivation of others is all it takes to reverse your way of thinking. So here’s my first step.be yourself

Now the truth is out there but I don’t want people to think twice about asking for an update on my books because of this post. Once the first conversation is out of the way and someone knows my secret I could talk about writing until you fall asleep! I genuinely appreciate the people who continue to show support and interest, and you should know you’re helping me overcome my internal battle and build my confidence.

Writing Is A Journey. A Long One.

It’s my two year blogaversary and I’ve come one hell of a long way! I can see it in my books and I can see it in my blogs. So here’s to ever learning …

challenge-520x245If you look anywhere for tips on writing, ‘Learning to Accept Criticism’ is always listed in the top ten. It’s important for writers to understand the role of rejection, because there’s no way to avoid it. If you send your work to publishers, it’s going to be knocked back, if you let the public read it, there will be bad reviews. It is the nature of art, there is no perfect way to do it.

But handling the criticism doesn’t come naturally to writers, we’re often sensitive, thoughtful creatures who need to be handled with care. Everyone is different but I believe new writers in general are not ready to hear it. I wasn’t either. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In order to make it through the thousands of words it takes to finish your manuscript, you need to believe you were born with a natural talent.

You’ve heard about writers being rejected countless times, you know how rare it is for someone to write a best seller first time round, but somewhere deep down, you think you could be one of them. That’s what gets you through. And when people are brave enough to tell you the truth about your book, you justify it in your own mind. They’re not my target audience, they don’t usually read, they aren’t familiar with the genre. Anything to convince yourself their feedback isn’t relevant, or they just didn’t see what you were trying to do.

It’s something we all have to go through. The tip isn’t, ‘Accept Criticism’, it’s ‘LEARN to Accept Criticism’. It takes time, and how ever long that may, be will vary from writer to writer. For a whole bunch of different reasons.

For me, I was afraid the criticism would stop me in my tracks. I didn’t want to hear it because I know I can take things to heart and I was worried the harsh truth would knock me right off my perch. I wrote four books and self published them, I set them free into the world. But the truth was I wasn’t ready to hear the bad news. Which is perfectly okay, the only way to get there is to experience it.

I took that terrifying first step, I revealed myself and all my flaws to the public.

And that’s the point in every writer’s life when they realise they’re not naturally blessed with the skills. They’re blessed with the inspiration and determination—the skills have to be learnt.

That realisation can take years. Only once you have poured your heart and soul into a story and moved on to write something new, can you really look back and see it for what it is. Time and distance shows you that your work is far from perfect. You did your very best, but you’ve learnt enough to understand what’s wrong with it.

And eventually, hearing someone point out your weaknesses is no longer so hard to hear. You know exactly what they’re talking about—you can see it yourself. You look at the standard of your work now, and see how far you’ve come. It’s still not perfect, but if someone points out the flaws, you think,  I’ve come so far in the past year, give it one more year and I’ll be even better at this.

It’s a journey. A long one.

I’ve been writing seriously for eight years now, and I can finally say I’m ready. I know my writing isn’t perfect, I mean really know, not just saying the words for the sake of it. The difference now, is that hearing the truth won’t stop me. I’ve realised I’m not defined by my work, but by my ability to learnt from it. I’m not afraid of publishers knocking me back, I won’t bother reading between the lines when someone says my work is good, completely lacking conviction. I can see it for what it is, and it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I’ve graduated. I’m ready to call myself a real writer.

 

For The Love Of Art

downloadWhat’s the difference between a successful artist and an unsuccessful artist?

Sometimes it’s not always about talent. There are some great artists out there who are completely unknown. So what’s the formula, and why does it work for some and not others?

Of course talent plays a big part, if you can’t sing in key then you’re not going to be offered a record deal. But in saying that, some of the most popular songs in history have also been incredibly basic. While there may be guitarists out there who can play a more complicated arrangement, perhaps it isn’t as pleasing to the ear. Maybe it just isn’t what people want to hear. Or it could simply be the fashion—what worked five years ago, won’t work anymore.

The same applies to writing. I’ve read fancy literary books before, I know the writing style is impeccable and the sentence structure is exactly how the universities teach. But sometimes the story is boring. So what’s the point in all those perfect sentences if I don’t care about the characters or plot? It isn’t enough to keep me reading the book.

Then, there’s the likes of Twilight. It’s talked about as being one of the most appallingly written books in history. But people bought it and they loved it, in fact, even people who don’t read, read it! So why is it okay for Stephanie Meyer to write terribly but most other authors won’t get away with it?

Is there a formula, or is it simply a secret ingredient?

It has to be both. Aside from the occasional one hit wonder, most successful artists reached their fame by working damn hard for it. There are also a hell of a lot of people out there who put in the same amount of effort and no matter how many years they slug away they’ll never make it. That’s where the secret lies. For some people it’s pure luck. It’s about being in the right place at the right time, perhaps even knowing the right people.

There’s only one thing we can know for sure. You can’t expect success to come to you. You have to work for it, and no matter how many years pass and how many rejections are thrown your way, you have to keep going. You need to learn, to grow and sometimes you need to adapt. That’s the difference between an artist who makes it and one who doesn’t.

I’ve heard stories of people who treat their craft like a business. Those who assess the market and produce something they know they can sell. I guess that’s where the formula comes into it. But I think in order to be a true artist you have to really love what you do. Without that passion, I don’t understand how you can sustain success. There has to be a connection between who you are and what you create. If your product happens to be what people want, that’s great. If not, changing it could mean sacrificing part of your soul. It means your art is no longer for yourself, it’s for someone else. It’s on their terms. For me, I think that has to be a deal breaker.

Hard work won’t reap the rewards for everyone, but if your art is a part of who you are—it won’t matter. That passion is your fuel, even if it costs you money or no one ever sees it, it’s the thing that keeps your heart beating. And it’s better to dream big and give it everything you have, than to realise you never made it because you gave up too soon.

The great thing about art, is that you can never really fail. 

 

Writing Is My Drug …

writing is my drugThis morning I was reading Stephen King’s On writing – A Memoir of the Craft, which is an amazing book I’d love to share more detail on, but that’s another blog entirely. For today I’ll just focus on one aspect. He talks briefly about the idea put forward by many artists that creativity and mind altering substances go hand in hand. Stephen King himself suffered from addiction, first alcohol then drugs. At the time he was afraid that without them he would lose his ability to be creative, even though he started writing long before he started drinking. Once he’d overcome these addictions he realised it was a myth.

It made me think about the idea and how many musicians, writers, painters, etc. claim drugs enhance their creativity but I have to say in my mind it couldn’t be more opposite. I’m not going to get on my high-horse and say these people shouldn’t take drugs, it’s  a personal choice, if that’s what works for them that’s fine but ultimately Stephen King said it right. “Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because that’s what alkies are wired up to do.”

I don’t take drugs and I don’t drink but that’s not to say I haven’t in the past. In fact despite my current herbal tea, yoga and meditation ritual I used to be quite a party animal. The truth is: ever since writing became such an active part of my life I no longer feel the need to engage in any of that. I still socialise and go to parties, I dance and laugh—I absolutely know how to have a good time but getting wasted doesn’t tempt me in the slightest.

I certainly have never bordered near the extreme of alcoholic but I won’t lie, it used to be a means of escape. When I was unsure of myself and my mind was constantly racing I didn’t know what else to do with myself. Sometimes when I needed to relax there was nothing quite like a beer at the end of the day.  I guess it also enhanced social situations but in reality I do just fine without it. It’s just that writing has now substituted it completely. I no longer have thousands of thoughts and ideas trapped in my head, they have an outlet and the more creativity there is in my life the more balanced I feel.

The imagination is an amazing place, I don’t think it needs substances to make it richer. If you want to take drugs take drugs but don’t say you have to do it for the sake of your art. If you feel the inclination to be creative chances are it’s because your brain is built that way. Regardless of whether you take drugs or not it’s going to exist. If you’ve taught yourself you can only work when you’re under the influence then that’s probably what will happen. Take all of that away—the creativity still exists you just need to give it a chance to find its own way out.

“Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

Amen Stephen King.

Literature vs Traffic

There are a significant number of people in my life that never read books, I’ve often heard them say: why would I read the book when I could watch the movie? I won’t lie, I want to bitch slap them … but I don’t because it’s not the best way to make someone see the value in something.

I love watching movies and there is certainly a place for them, they too are a valuable art form, but I think the pleasure of reading is getting left behind in our rapidly changing world and there are far too many mind-numbing ways for people to entertain themselves.

The thing about reading is that it helps your mind to grow, it actually has to create its own images to go with the words but the great thing about it is that you don’t even notice it happening. It engages your imagination, someone else has given you the story line but you’ve made the movie yourself.  The characters will look exactly right; the way they talk, move and behave will be according to your specifications. As the scenes are running into one and other you’re trying to guess what will happen next, imagining what’s happening in the lives of the characters not involved in that chapter and relating their experiences to your own. While you are completely distracted by all these things you are learning about language and that gives you the tools to communicate with other people and express both feelings and ideas. The importance of language is a whole other subject— we wouldn’t be where we are today without the use of words and if it’s that important to our history and our future we need to ensure its survival.

That’s why I love this art project by Luzinterruptus—a Spanish design group—called Literature vs Traffic. They are known for illuminated installations in public places such as New York, Madrid, Berlin and now Melbourne, Australia. The idea behind the concept: “We want literature to seize the streets and become the conqueror of public spaces, freely offering to those who walk by a space free of traffic which for a few hours of the night will succumb to the modest power of the written word.”

Federation Square has been paved with glowing books, a space that is usually crowded with pollution and noise has been converted into a place of peacefulness and relaxation. The books were donated by the Salvation Army, all of them previously owned and loved, people are encouraged to walk around the display, read the books, take them home or even write in them. It’s a celebration of books and hopefully a reminder that words are what connect us to the world around us—all you have to do is read.