Why I’m Breaking Up With My Book

The Spill and I met years ago, when we were young(er) and unpublished. It wasn’t my first manuscript, but it was definitely the first one that I went all the way with. We stumbled along the rocky pathway towards publication, weathering feedback, revisions and rejections, and then celebrating our win of a major literary award and our very first publishing contract. Hand in hand, we tentatively entered the editorial process, emerging on the other side stronger and better than ever. We posted our first cover reveal and at least sixty people on Instagram loved us. 

Together, we were ready to conquer the world. 

Publication day passed by in a blur of well-wishes and social media posts, followed by a honeymoon full of reviews, interviews and online events. Giddily, we did everything our publicist asked of us. We didn’t care if only two people logged on to see our PowerPoint presentation for that regional library book group event. We were published! 

Woman with glasses holding attractive book with pink cover titled 'The Spill'
Imbi and The Spill during happier times

Eventually the publicity trail went cold and the spotlight moved onto other people and books, and it was then that things began to change between my book and me. As a debut writer, I hadn’t anticipated how exposed and tender I would feel about having a book out in the world. My book, in stark contrast, didn’t share any of my anxieties, largely because it was an inanimate object devoid of human feelings, but also because books, once published, no longer belong to their writers. They belong to the readers.

As we spent less and less time in each other’s company, I started to forget the names of characters. Scenes that I’d delighted in writing, whose details had once felt more real than my own memories, began to fade from my mind. Why, there would be whole days when I would completely forget I had ever been published, where I wouldn’t think of my book even once! 

By September 2020, Imbi and The Spill were leading largely separate lives.

But then, there were other, darker days where I was desperate to remind myself that I was a Real Writer and that my book was still out there, being read and perhaps even loved. I did all the things grown-up authors aren’t supposed to do: searching for photos of my book on Instagram, scouring the end of year “Best of” lists and (worse yet!) reading the reviews on Goodreads. “No-one will ever love and understand you the way I love and understand you,” I’d sob into my pillow as I imagined my book in the hands of another uncaring reader. 

(Of course, during these darker days, the Word document that I’d cut and pasted all the lovely messages from friends and strangers, the Word document that was supposed to be my safety net on such days, went unopened and forgotten.)

Poor neglected Wordy…

And then one day, I finally hit rock bottom. I found myself messaging a friend-of-an-ex-friend who had given me—I mean my book—a 2 star rating (without review) on Goodreads. “Sorry you didn’t like the book!!!” I wrote to them, hoping to fend off my tears with an excessive use of exclamation marks. The minute I pressed send on that message, I knew I had gone too far.  “Enough,”I said to myself, “Enough now!”, just like that creepy stalkery guy in Love Actually, except without the kiss from Keira Knightley. 

In that moment, I realised two things: firstly, I had effaced the line between myself and my book so completely that my self-esteem was now dependent on every kind or nasty word written about it (but mostly the nasty ones); and secondly, I had forgotten that the one thing that made me feel like a “Real Writer” was doing some actual goddamn writing. 

You see, dear reader, there is another book on the scene. A book that is asking for my complete attention. A book I’ve started thinking about when I go to sleep at night and when I wake in the morning. A book that I desperately need to write. But it’s hard to fall in love again when your ex is still toying with your feelings and messing with your head. 

And so it’s time to formally break up with my first book, my first love, the book that taught me how to be a published author. I’m blocking Goodreads on my internet browser and deleting the app from my phone. I’m canceling my Google Alerts and leaving all the book- and reading-related groups on Facebook. I’m wishing my book all the very best, but I’m letting it go. 

Of course, there may be times ahead when my book and I will be invited to the same party and we’ll have to stand next to each other and smile for the cameras. If and when that happens, I know I will be glad to see my book, because, really, it’s quite pleasant company and also incredibly good looking. But at the end of the evening, I hope I’ll be able to kiss it lightly on the cheek and then happily go home to my new book, where I know I now belong. 


Not Pictured


Recently, a friend asked me if I won all the awards I ever entered.

“I wish!” I replied, and then, when I had stopped laughing and then crying and then laughing again, I added: “You should see my submission spreadsheet.”

For reasons unknown, my friend wasn’t that eager to see my submission spreadsheet. But if he had seen it, he may have noticed the long streaks of grey in the STATUS column.

Spreadsheet times.png

‘Wow,’ he might have then said. ‘You would never have guessed that from Instagram.’

And he would have been right.

Pictured: me, receiving a short story award, smiling so much that my cheekbones are on the verge of crushing my eyeballs.

Not pictured: me, sitting in front of my computer, my chest slowly collapsing in on itself, because I only have a fifteen minute window to write and the words Simply. Won’t. Come and NOBODY WILL EVER PUBLISH ME ANYWAY.

Pictured: me, wearing the same smile described above but dialled up to 11, about to walk into a fancy hotel to receive a major prize.

Not pictured: me, obsessively checking my email on my phone for an email that will never come.

Pictured: me, signing my first book contract as my partner opens a fancy bottle of champagne in the background.

Not pictured: me, receiving another ‘Dear Valued Writer’ rejection email and then drinking a bottle of Passion Pop with a curly straw.

So for all you onlookers and struggling writers out there, remember this: behind every win is a spreadsheet’s worth of rejection. Behind every smile are buckets of spent tears. Behind every published word are a hundred thousand unpublished words.

Unless, of course, you’re like that writer I once saw on a panel whose first book was written on a whim, shortlisted for the only thing she entered it into and published by the first publisher who read it. But even then that writer must have bad hair days, right? RIGHT??

Pictured: me, having a bad hair day AND receiving a short story award.

NSSA_2019 copy
You can find out more about my ‘yay times’ at my grown-up author platform or on Instagram,



Small Acts Of Encouragement


Some time in late August 2018, I bought a water bottle. Almost anyone who has spoken to me in the last five months can tell you how much I love that water bottle. I talk about it frequently and with unbridled joy. I even bought every member of my household one, although none of them quite share my enthusiasm.

‘It’s just a water bottle,’ they say. ‘Calm down’.

‘But what a water bottle,’ I reply.

Then one day, while gleefully availing myself of the free WiFi on the bus to the airport, I decided to send a note of appreciation to the manufacturers of my water bottle. But when I went to their website, I discovered that their online feedback form was designed to receive complaints.

Surely, I thought to myself, I can’t be the first person to have ever sent them a note of appreciation. But by their rather dazed response a few days later, it seemed I might have been.

This got me thinking about how most people only speak up to complain. They don’t take the time to give appreciation for an ergonomic grip or easy-to-clean lid. They wouldn’t think to let the shopkeeper know that the window display made their heart swell or to thank the bus driver for waiting patiently for that elderly woman struggling to catch the bus. There is so much good and beauty and kindness in the world that goes unacknowledged.

Which brings me ever-so-self-consciously to the topic of my writing. (*ahem*).

In 2018, I put my work ‘out there’ 37 times, mostly award submissions and residency applications, with a light smattering of agent and publisher queries. Out of those 37 times, I had two definite ‘wins’ (You can read about those wins at imbineeme.com/news and even see a photo where I’m smiling so much it looks like my face has imploded). I also had one short-listing, one long-listing and an honourable mention.

Otherwise, I experienced a whole lot of rejection.

Mostly, I’m okay with this. I know these awards and residency programs are not like modern day pass-the-parcel where everybody is apparently a winner. And I know they must follow the Highlander model: there can only be one. But I also know this means there are plenty of writers whose stories or manuscripts were totes awesome sauce (and most likely don’t include the term ‘totes awesome sauce’) that weren’t awarded the prize or shortlisted and who received the same rejection email as everyone else without ever knowing how close they got or how much their words might have resonated with one of the readers during the judging process.

Luckily for me, I experienced two exceptions to this norm in 2018. The judges for one mentorship/residency program took the time and care to let me know I’d made the top 10% of a very large submission pool. And a judge from another prize contacted me via the prize’s organisers to let me know they loved my submission and to encourage me to keep going.

So to all the literary awards organisers and judges out there: the wording of that rejection email matters. Long lists matter. And although it’s not always practical or possible, occasionally reaching out from behind that veil (you all wear veils, right?) can make a huge, huge difference.

And look, while I’m at it, to all the readers out there: when you truly love a book or a story or an article, please consider reaching out to the writer in some way to let them know. Don’t be creepy about it and try and be their new best friend and offer to weave a brooch from a lock of their hair. Just let them know their words mattered.

Writing is such a lonely and difficult pursuit, we all need small acts of encouragement to keep going.

And, for the record, I will keep going (*she says, as she takes an enthusiastic swig from her beloved water bottle*).




Almost two years ago, I made a bold proposal to my dear writerly friend Emilie Collyer: if we both got publishing contracts within the next year, we should get matching tattoos.

Next to the microwave in the office of the small arts organisation we both worked for, we shook hands. A pact was made.

Over the weeks that followed, we wondered aloud what kind of tattoo we might get. It should be something symbolic, we said. Something writerly.  I casually mentioned that I had always liked the ‘&’ symbol. Emilie mused how ‘&’ denoted the word ‘and’ but also had its own word (‘ampersand’). Those layers of meaning felt pretty damn writerly. We also liked how open-ended the ampersand was. It said: ‘Sure, we’ve had a book published but there’s more to come, bitches!’. It said: ‘And… and… and…’.

Of course, I should note here that, much like a bride planning a wedding before she’s even found herself a fiancé(e), we were a little ahead of ourselves. There was still the small matter of getting our manuscripts published… Pfft! Mere tish tosh! The power of ampersand compelled us! In fact, at the very moment we stood next to that microwave and shook hands, the full manuscript for my first book was with half a dozen major publishers. Surely, it was just a matter of time! I mean, ampersand!

As the weeks and months passed, however, two of those major publishers passed on my manuscript and the others eventually fell into the kind of long silence where no words are spoken but the meaning is very, very clear. My manuscript and I had entered a World of No

Meanwhile, Emilie had entered an even darker place. Only a few weeks after we made our pact, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her focus quickly shifted from her writing to her health, and her trajectory was no longer towards triumphant publication, but instead towards surgery, chemo and radiotherapy.  In the middle of her treatment, Emilie confided that she wasn’t sure she would ever return to writing. I supported her, of course, but secretly, I despaired for her and it led me to a very important realisation. All this time I had been thinking a writer who wasn’t published wasn’t really a proper writer. But the truth was that a writer who didn’t write was a person living half a life.

Thankfully, Emilie came back to writing. Slowly at first, and then with great force. She wrote an article about her cancer treatment and then started working on a novel and then a play and then another play and… and… and… Last month, I saw her wonderful play Contest at the Northcote Town Hall. She is now working towards getting a new play up next year and has an idea for another novel.

As for me, I stopped fretting about whether or not I was going to get published and finished a second manuscript and embarked on a third. I started writing short stories.

And… and… and… 

You see, the true meaning of ampersand was not about getting published. It was about making a commitment to writing, and to ourselves as writers.

With this in mind and heart, last Friday Emilie and I went together to Vic Market Tattoo in North Melbourne and let a man called Pablo indelibly mark us.

Because we are ampersand. Ampersand is us. We are writers. And we will always write.

Also, #fuckcancer.


Your words are like a strong white light


The Dark Side of the Loom. Photo credit: Aldo Cavini Benedetti

Sometimes, when you read something you have written, the words dance for you on the page. You are dazzled by their beauty and their music and you feel quietly pleased. You are a wordsmith!  A sculptor of sentences! A god!

And then other times, when you read those very same words, they are lifeless and tuneless. Misshapen and clumsy.  Ill-formed. You feel embarrassed by them and for yourself. You wonder why you even bothered.

But don’t worry.

Your words are like a strong white light and, every time they are read, they enter a prism and emerge as one of a million different colours — for you and for every other reader, whether a friend, an editor, a publisher or a stranger.

Your words are like a strong white light.

Remember this and keep writing.

This post is for Emilie. 


Nanofiction: The Ark Angels

The ferret tutted as she counted the night’s takings.

“If business keeps going at this rate, Noah will have himself a bunch of hippogriffs and ophiotaurusses by the time we reach land,” she said.

“I think you mean ophiotaurii,” the flamingo yawned. “Anyway, you have to admit this place is a much better option than murder-suicide.”

She was referring to the nasty incident on Day 2 of the Flood where the female unicorn had speared her partner and then turned her horn on herself. Noah had been quick to set up ‘The Ark Angels Brothel’ after that, hoping to ease the tensions between the pairs of animals.

The ferret shrugged. “How was your shift?”

“More of the same,” the flamingo replied, shifting her weight to her other leg. “That rattlesnake was in again, moaning that his wife never listens to him. I pointed out that it’s because rattlesnakes are deaf but I don’t think he heard me.

“And then a praying mantis came in and just cried for an hour because his wife keeps seasoning his head while he’s sleeping.

“And after that, a horse came wanting to saddle and whip me… “

The flamingo’s story was interrupted by two swans tumbling through the door in a flurry of feathers and angry words.

“I thought we were supposed to mate for life!” Mr Swan was honking.

“That was before you took me on the worst cruise ever. You said there would be games! And a smorgasbord!” Mrs Swan was honking back.

“But think of the alternative! All that rain! All those rising waters!”

“We’re swans! We float!” Mrs Swan barked, before turning to the flamingo with a smile. “Oh goody. You’re still here.”

The flamingo tried not to groan. The last time Mrs Swan had come in, she’d just wanted to hiss and grunt for the whole session. It had been extremely wearing on the flamingo’s delicate vocal chords.

“We’re closed,” she said. “I’ve got fifty bucks that says you’re open,“ Mrs Swan said, lifting her wing to reveal the crisp fifty dollar note tucked underneath.

“Okay,” the flamingo sighed.

“Can I at least watch?” Mr Swan whimpered.

“No!” the flamingo and Mrs Swan snapped in unison.

As she lead Mrs Swan through to the back room, the flamingo thought of the jar full of cash she and her husband had saved for the new life ahead. And then she thought of her poor husband working a double-shift in the animal restrooms, shovelling faeces with his beak.

This could be worse, she decided. She cleared her throat, ready to start hissing and grunting. But Mrs Swan had other ideas.

“Would you mind burying your head in that bucket of sand?” she asked coyly. “I’ve always had a thing for ostriches…”

The flamingo closed her eyes as she pressed her head into the cold sand.

Yes, this could be worse, she thought again. But it could also be a whole lot better.


The 2017 List of Unlisted Writers


Somewhat surprisingly, I did not make this list of Task Things in 2017 (written by my youngest child).

When I wrote my last post, I honestly thought my list would have end up having just one name on it and one name alone: my own.

But then the list started to grow. Some people put their own names forward. Other people put forward the names of deserving friends.

Without further ado, here is a list of writers who were unlisted in 2017 but who continued to find joy in the act of writing and do it anyway:

Karletta Abianac
Jacie Anderson
Lou Bromley
Deborah Crabtree
Elizabeth Jane Corbett
Tracey Gregory
Troy Hunter
Karen McKnight
Karen Lee
Marissa Margaret
Caitlin McGrath
Francesca Meehan
Imbi Neeme
Sarah O’Bern
Amra Pajalic
Rachel Sanderson

Clive Wansbrough
Claire Weigall

Even if this is the only list I make in 2018, I’ll be glad. This list is good company.

If you or anyone you know deserves to be on this list, please let me know before December 31st 2017 via email imbi.neeme@gmail.com or in the comments below. 


A List Of My Own


This unfinished blanket was also not listed in 2017.

It’s that time of year when people like to make lists. Lists of things to do, things to buy and things make. Lists of best books, movies and albums. Lists of must-see TV and must-have gadgets and must-avoid foods. Lists of lists.

Throughout the year, there have been other kinds of lists. Lists for unpublished manuscripts and emerging writers. Longlists and shortlists, commended lists and winners lists. I tried to get on some of those lists, maybe six or seven of them, but didn’t make a single one. I know, from previous experience, that being on a list feels really, really good. Unless it’s a hit list, of course. That probably feels rubbish.

But listen: I feel incredibly proud of the writing I’ve done in 2017. In between the cracks of my busy life, I’ve managed to revise one manuscript from second draft to fifth draft, as well as write a first draft of a whole other novel. I’ve continued to back my own writing by submitting it for awards and prizes and sending it to publishers. And even while I was weathering the not-very-highs and really-quite-lows of being an unpublished novelist, I managed to still feel joy every time I sat down to write.

And that, I believe, is truly list-worthy.

This year, on Friday 22 December, I am going to announce my own list. It will be a list of writers who didn’t get listed in 2017 but who kept writing anyway. My name will be on it. If you want your name – or someone else’s name – to be on it, too, please email me – imbi.neeme@gmail.com 





The secret blanket


I’ve been secretly working on a blanket for my daughter since March. When I say ‘secretly’, I’ve actually been working on it right next to her on the couch each evening but because I’m her mother, she hasn’t shown any interest whatsoever in what I’m doing.

Having dedicated three-quarters of my life to the creation (and ongoing maintenance) of the queen-sized Forever Blanket, I thought a single blanket would be easy-peasy, something I could knock together in a couple of afternoons.

I thought wrong.

After five months, I’m only halfway through the blanket with seven weeks remaining until my daughter’s thirteenth birthday.  I’ve decided that only possible way to finish it in time is by giving up work and sleep. Also showering, as it’s surprisingly difficult to crochet whilst under running water.

But listen, the looming deadline is not the biggest problem here. The biggest problem is that the girl I started making the blanket for last March, the girl I chose the colours and pattern for, is now a different girl altogether. Now, she’s a girl with a boyfriend and an attitude, a girl who would rather write in her journal in her room than sit next to me on the couch. A girl who is becoming a woman. This new girl is more likely to cloak herself in mystery and clothing from Dangerfield than a blue and yellow afghan flower blanket made by her mother.

Of course, I love this new girl. I love her sass and her strength and her fierce independence. I even love her Instagram stories, even though I can’t pretend I understand them.

But seriously, could she stop growing up until I’ve finished this goddam blanket?