I’m delighted to be able to share an article about my writing journey published on page 22 of the The Victorian Writer magazine.
Anyone who wants to know what is happening in the writing world looks forward to this magazine. I believe they have 3500 members who delight in reading the articles and love the ‘competitions and opportunities’ page.
Writers often dream of being published and getting their work ‘out there’. I am no exception. My second novel has just been published but it has been a long road to publication. This manuscript has had at least three reincarnations with a change of title each time. Each version has its own merit and has taught me something valuable about the craft of writing. The novel, ‘Something Missing’ began life as ‘Hens Lay, People Lie’: my artefact for my PhD at Swinburne University.
I had just completed my Masters of Creative Writing at Melbourne Uni when my first novel, Pickle to Pie co-won the Ilura Press International Fiction Quest. This meant a cash advance, plus publication and I was beside myself with excitement.
Pickle to Pie was the story of a boy, a great-hearted German Grossmutter and a man caught between two worlds. It was a record of my father’s life. In his late eighties he would sit for hours telling me, or whoever would listen, the stories of his early life, the first child born in Australia to his family of German immigrants.
I had promised myself, if Pickle to Pie was ever published that I would give up my day job. Hairdressing had always augmented the family income through good times and bad. After the book launch I stuck to my promise, sold the salon and walked away to a life of poverty. I knew I was not a J K Rowling, but I was happy.
I had often toyed with the idea of studying for my PhD but never dreamt it could happen. However, to be awarded an APA scholarship meant the opportunity to study at Swinburne University. I grabbed it with both hands. With the help of two supervisors I could learn the craft of writing and understand all the rules. I would then know why I was breaking them. I decided to do what so many writers do. I chose to write something close to my heart. Something entirely different. This time it would be based on my thirty-five year pen-friendship with an older American poet, a story about two women, a life changing pen-friendship and the lies they tell each other. I wrote in my journal, ‘I am writing an epistolary, autoethnographic novel grounded in both feminism and post modernist paradigms with the aim of revealing women’s hidden stories in the hope of instigating social change. I believe this embedded story of the journey of self discovery and friendship will carry with it the possibility of nothing less than the restoration of faith in human kind.’
What lofty aims, but here was a chance to use our letters, interspersed with text, to explore the influence this elderly poet had on a young woman who left school at fourteen to become a hairdresser: a woman who unconsciously yearned for the education given to her brother and denied to her. My journey into epistolary fiction using letter, diary and journal extracts, plus snippets of poetry, had begun.
I began work using an older American woman’s voice in first person narration; an elderly Australian woman in second person; and the young Australian mum in third person. The story would have embedded dialogue, following author, Debra Adelaide’s example, where only the formatting and actions of the characters, rather than dialogue marks, reveal to the reader who is speaking at that time. The elderly Australian woman would reveal the pitfalls and joys of writing a novel in a humorous, tongue in cheek, vein.
For four years I am caught up in a world where my mind kept bouncing backwards and forwards between my creative writing of this novel and the formal academic exegesis.
Friends warned me that I would have a meltdown post PhD, but I was convinced that would not happen to me. I was too strong, too resilient. That sort of breakdown only happened to other people. The wail of the ambulance soon bought me back to earth with a thud. I asked my adult son what section of hospital I was in. He replied, ‘The resuscitation room, Mum.’ Two weeks later, just home from hospital and feeling weak and tired, I had resigned myself to missing my already paid for graduation ceremony. My son hired a wheelchair, determined I would make it.
There were only three PhD degrees awarded that night. I waited in the wings for all the BA’s, Masters and double degrees to be awarded before my son wheeled me over to join the queue waiting for their turn to hear their name called and to climb the stairs to the stage. Determined to walk under my own steam, doubts filled my mind. What if I couldn’t manage the stairs? What if I fainted, collapsed, or worse still, threw up when the chancellor, in all his finery handed me my much sort after certificate. What if…
To leave my wheelchair and walk on stage wearing the hired floppy Tudor bonnet and colourful gown was a highlight in my life. I had an overwhelming feeling of achievement and self worth that no one could take away from me. Afterwards, I thankfully joined my peers on the stage and proudly marched out with the academic procession only to flop into the wheelchair waiting by the door.
The mature aged student journey from VCE to PhD had required passion, dogged determination and guts, but it had also been the most exciting, exhilarating time in my life. I knew I would miss it and all the friends I’d made along the way.
Using my recently gained title of Dr Glenice Whitting I sent my edited and, according to me, perfect manuscript out to publishers and waited for the offers to come rolling in. Nothing happened. Slowly, relentlessly, one after the other a stream of rejections arrived. ‘Thank you for sending Hens Lay People Lie, however…’
I was caught in a catch-22 situation. To get a publisher I needed an agent but to get an agent I needed a publisher. I also took a long hard look at what I’d written, and following the suggestions of American author/editor, Cindy Vallar, I inserted quotation marks to all the dialogue and renamed the manuscript ‘What Time is it There?’ Still the rejections arrived. It was ‘too academic’ too many voices, too literary, too hard to read and so on. Had I, over the years of study, begun to sound as if I’d swallowed a dictionary? I knew I had to, once again, rewrite the manuscript. It took a huge leap of faith to take it from literary fiction into popular fiction.
The third reincarnation is the one that is being published. It was an invaluable lesson. To be a writer I had to be myself and write the way I really wanted to write, from the heart. I took out the overarching second person narrating character, made both Maggie and Diane third person narration, threw in a handful of suspense and Voilà …’Something Missing’ was born. It had gone beyond academia, beyond epistolarity into what is now called, popular fiction. I was over the moon with excitement the day I received the email that Tim Ridgway and Melanie V Taylor of MadeGlobal Publishing. They loved the story and would I sign the contract?
It is every writer’s dream to hold their book in their hands. It gives them a chance to thank all the people who have helped along the way. There have been so many people I could list who have patiently and painstakingly worked with me through all three versions. However, there is an indescribable joy in being able to finally thank them formally, via the acknowledgment page, in the soon to be published last reincarnation of the manuscript, ‘Something Missing’.
When academic friends say, ‘Congratulations on getting ‘Hens Lay, People Lie’ published’ I simply smile and reply with a heartfelt ‘Thank you’.
Glenice Whitting left school at fourteen to become an apprentice hairdresser. Her journey as a mature –aged student took her from VCE to PhD in creative writing. Her debut novel Pickle to Pie won awards and was published by Ilura Press. Her latest novel, Something Missing was launched at Swinburne University in December and is now available via MadeGlobal in London or at Amazon.com.