What has been different about getting an international multi-book publishing deal than how I imagined it in my girlhood fantasies? Well, I’m glad you asked. The answer is most things, and most for the better. The things that are bad aren’t bad at all – they’re just difficult, a challenge. I guess I’d always thought that if this ever happened to me the work would be done – I’d clap the dust off my hands triumphantly, adjust my belt in satisfaction and wander off into the sunset. There is, however, unexpectedly, a lot of work to being an author. There’s also a lot of doubt.
I guess I never realised how much the world needs to know about you when you make something people like. I know diddly squat about my favourite literary figures (except for Plath – but who doesn’t know that one), so I guess I assumed I’d just be one of those mysterious, aloof types with hunched shoulders in the corner of the cafe, the one people whisper about. Not so. Over the last few months I’ve conducted a real autopsy on my entire existence, bringing out and weighing and cataloguing experiences even I’d forgotten I had in an attempt to uncover what made me this way. The joy of it is being asked to describe what type of character I am in all my writerly glory, the way that I used to write character profiles in baby writer class. When asked why I write, as I have been many of times now over publicity meetings, magazine meetings, coffee meetings, blog meetings, I’ve discovered that I share some characteristics with people who have become great at this thing, and that’s a relief. I began writing as a way to flee my childhood bedroom on wordy wings. I struggled to find a voice I liked the sound of. I wrote pages and pages of garbage for years upon naive years. I tried to stand on great shoulders and fell off because I was too small. The last few months have been a very enjoyable self-examination, something I don’t think you can really do without learning something important about yourself. I think I’ve learnt that I was always going to be this way. That writing was a seed I was born with that was always going to grow.
I never realised how immobilising self-doubt can be. I’m talking actually feeling sick at the idea of putting any words on the page. I wrote HADES in the raw hot joy of personal literary escape and now I’m writing EDEN (almost finished draft one!) under the hammer of public expectation. According to people who have snaggled a bit of EDEN off my desk, the weight on my shoulders hasn’t affected the quality of my work in any way, but damn, has it made things slow. I’ve got to really think about who these people I’m playing with are, because their own histories and motivations and desires are being eyeballed under the microscope, as well as me. And I love them all so. Every one. I think my lesson going forward will be to let go of the need for everyone to love everyone in the Bennett/Archer series as much as I do, because one of the most common misconceptions about life, psychologists will tell you, is that you have to be approved of by everyone you meet for all things you do at all times. People are going to hate Frank, Eden, even Hades. I’ve got to live with it.
I’m surprised how long the guilt can last when people ask me what I do and I tell them that I’m an author. I’m still struggling with that, but seeing myself in the paper might help. I’m surprised at how comfortable I can be filling out interview questions on the screen but how awkward, confused and twitchy a camera lens can make me. I’m awed by the electric excitement that emerged out of a low-level ‘well done!’ when people started seeing actual pictures of my book on my various author pages – something that was once an idea now an object, a thing I made that could be bought and enjoyed. I’m lucky enough to have some of the funniest, weirdest and most giving people in my life right on board behind the book, so I’ve been very grateful for that. I wasn’t prepared for all the book-hungry fans who have popped up on the pages who have no connection to me or my friends whatsoever, random people from all around the globe who are just happy to hear about a stranger’s success and eager to get a bit of good old Aussie crime in their lives.
I guess I’m glad the publication process is so much longer, more complex and more difficult than I first imagined; because I’m more connected to it. With every phone call, interview, email, sales figure, every fan who wants advice on how to get published, every Like, every tweet, I’m there in the moment, relishing in what I have done. If I’d been offered the deal and stepped back into the shadows, there’s no way it could have been as character-developing as this.
And I’m into stuff like that.