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Ampersand

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.

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Your words are like a strong white light

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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. 

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A List Of My Own

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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 

 

 

 

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My manuscript is a little boat

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My manuscript is a little boat.

I built it myself by hand, using all my skills and some stuff I looked up on the internet.

My manuscript is a little boat.

I keep gently pushing it out to sea but it keeps coming back to me.

Sometimes, it’s because I need to fix things on it. The sail is torn, the rudder isn’t ruddering, or the crew’s names are all too similar and nobody can tell them apart.

Sometimes, it just comes back to me because it wasn’t heading in the right direction or I didn’t push it hard enough.

Sometimes, I’m annoyed to see it return.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You! Again!”

Sometimes, I’m sad to see it and I crawl up inside its little cabin and have a really good cry.

Sometimes, I’m philosophical.
“Oh well. I guess that sea was choppier than it looked, eh?”

And sometimes I’m quite happy to see it.
“Oh! I remember you! ” I say,  and then I take some time to admire the bits of it that I built well, ignoring the shoddy bits that I fudged and the crew with the indistinguishable names.

My manuscript is a little boat that I’ll keep pushing back out to sea until one day, its sails will catch the right wind to take it where it needs to go.

Either that, or I’ll just accept that I need to scrap the whole thing and repurpose the good bits for another little boat I’m building.

After all, I’m a builder of little boats and not a sailor.

 

 

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Crochet-as-metaphor-for-novel-writing

I’m going to come out and say what you’ve all been thinking: there are not enough blog posts out there labouring this whole ‘crochet-as-metaphor-for-novel-writing‘ thing. Certainly not on this ‘crochet-as-metaphor-for-novel-writing‘ blog, which has lain fallow for almost a year. Oh the shame of it all.

So here is an update on where I am with my novel writing, as represented by some of my crochet projects. You know, because crochet-as-metaphor, etc, etc.

MANUSCRIPT #1: THE HIDDEN DRAWER
Two strangers exchange messages about their unhappy married lives in the suburbs via a hidden drawer in a cafe table, unaware that there is someone else reading them.

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This manuscript is like the Forever Blanket. It took me forever and to you, the casual observer, it looks finished. But then, you get up close and you see shit like this:

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And then someone, maybe me, tells you how I have to keep emergency yarn in my bedside table drawer so that I can fix it in the all the places it keeps unravelling and how I sometimes have to do this as I’m trying to go to bed, and you realise how stupidly flawed the whole thing is.

Maybe ‘The Hidden Drawer’, like the Forever Blanket, will never be finished-finished but maybe that’s okay because I learnt so much in the making of it.

Maybe.

But I’ll keep trying to fix it, because I’m stubborn like that. Also, I love it.

MANUSCRIPT #2: OUT OF WATER
A woman finds a wedding ring at the beach and shares it on Facebook in the hope of finding its owner. But as she uncovers a secret relationship, the tragic death of a child and the bizarre end of a man in a home-made fish suit, she realises the ring isn’t the quite the gift she thought it would be.

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This manuscript, which I had just started at the time of my last blog post, is now in its third draft and was recently sent out into the world in four different directions. Like this baby blanket, it still needs tidying up. Also, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s big enough.

But for the moment, I’m not going to do anything else on it. Certainly, with the blanket, I won’t finish it off until the baby it’s been made for has been safely delivered into this world. And with the manuscript, I’ll just wait and see where and when it lands before I open that particular Scrivener file again.

MANUSCRIPT #3: EACH OTHER (working title)
A car overturns on a remote West Australian road. Nobody is badly hurt, but the impact is felt by the two sisters involved for decades afterwards.

FullSizeRenderThis manuscript is like this new blanket project: a small, random selection of messy-looking squares that I’ve half-heartedly started stitching together, in the full knowledge that I’ve only completed 10% of the squares I’ll ultimately need to do before I can even begin to call it a blanket.

MANUSCRIPT #4: [Title completely unknown]
Something about postcards. 

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This manuscript is very much like this future crochet project, where very little is known about it except that I think I might like to use this orange yarn from Morris & Sons.

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Where are we now, where are we now?

Remember how I got excited because my novel got commended for the VPUMA‘s last year? Well, it turns out that thing wasn’t a novel at all, it was only the first draft of a novel. A mere shadow of the vague thought of a novel, if you will.

However, you may be interested to know that a few months – and drafts – later, I was selected for the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program and now, in May 2106, I’m now looking down the barrel of Draft Seven and might just be ready to call it an Actual Novel.

In the meantime, I have made this:

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And this:

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And this:

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I have also embarked on the first draft of a mere shadow of a vague thought of another novel. Now, before anyone suggests that this means I should embark on another Forever Blanket as well, I’m going to fix you all with a steely gaze that unequivocally says “Back off, motherfuckers. This girl’s gotta write.”

Bonus points for anyone who picked up the Bowie reference in this post’s title. For the record, his passing still hurts. 

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Are we there yet?

Ever finished a 256-square blanket and laid it gently across your bed only to discover it should, in fact, be a 289-square blanket?

Ever written a novel with the aim of submitting it for an unpublished manuscript award and then getting to the other side of the award and realising you still have to get the damn thing published?

It’s enough to make a girl put down her crochet hook and her manuscript and take up something altogether different, like planking. And yes, I know that’s an outdated cultural reference but I’ve been busy writing a novel, you know.

Still, it’s not all bad.

My manuscript made the the judges’ commended list for the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award. And my Forever Blanket is looking like this:

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So the answer to the question “Are we there yet?” is “No, but we’re getting closer. So here, have some more car snacks and shut the hell up.”