Writers groups, in any form, are a wonderful thing. Only other writers understand the agony of pulling a story out of the case of your unconscious and chiseling away at it until it takes form. Only writers understand the doubt, the anxiety, that comes with interrogating your story to see if it stands up to the test of readership. So, desperate for assistance, I took my problems with Saint (as it was still called at that stage) along to a masterclass with Sydney Smith (The Story Whisperer).
As I talked about my story and the problems I was encountering the madness of having a dead protagonist again became evident. The difficulties it presented seemed to boggle everyone's minds. I could tell from the looks I was getting people thought it couldn't work, that I was crazy pursuing this aspect of the novel. Again the questions, 'why does Banjo have to be dead?' and the only answer I had was 'because he is'. Their questions made me doubt this choice and I began to wonder if I was making this novel too hard for myself.
In the end I decided to chat with Banjo about it, after all, it was his story. He made it pretty clear. 'You can tell that story [when he's alive] if you like, but that's not my story. It's not the story I want to tell.' Okaaay. Looks like I got a dead protagonist on my hands. Best just go with it.
So I stuck to my guns and listened carefully to the advice of my wise friends and mentors and stewed and stewed and scribbled ideas and hoped inspiration would come. And it did. There were two big issues I was grappling with (neither of which I can detail without giving the plot away, so I will speak broadly here) and I needed a plot device to solve both of them. In workshopping the problems with the master class group many suggestions were thrown at me, but most of them were unsatisfatory because they were too contrived or required too great a suspension of belief in the reader. Then Troy, my wonderfully talented LLG colleague, came up with a BRILLIANT suggestion. It fitted perfectly with the plot line and characters and used Jade's art to bring about a believable scenario.
Which goes to prove that a novel is the work of a village, not an individual.
So I sat down and set to work on finishing the first draft, which was more an act of determination than anything else. I struggled forward, chapter by painful chapter, keeping a record of the number of words I had by the side of my keyboard. It was slow. There were times when I sat staring up at the ceiling, my arms over my head as if fending off punches. I fought the urge to get up. I made myself sit there and keep writing, no matter how awful it was, no matter how scared I was. On one particularly dark day I complained on Facebook and the wonderful Kate Forsyth replied with these immortal words. When I read them I knew she was right and it gave me the impetus I needed to keep going.
'Your story chose you for a reason. Don't let it down.'
I understood what she meant. Trust the story that comes. Give it the respect it deserves. Treat it as you would a best friend who needs you. Pay no attention to the leering shadows of fear, self doubt, anxiety lurking behind you. Grit your teeth and tell those suckers - 'Not today boys, no room for you here, move along.'
Hold your nerve.
I took her at her word. I held my nerve and went back to the keyboard with a vehemence that surprised even me. I learned to pay no attention to the voices of doubt and fear. I rose above them. I ignored them. And when they got too loud I wrote in my notebook until I was back in control again (I photographed an extract for you here). I was boss and I was going to write this damned book whether they liked it or not!
Another wonderful writer friend, Jewelene Barrile (also an enormously talented LLG), loaned me her quiet Airey's Inlet house for a weekend where I escaped my family and spent three solid days reviewing the entire manuscript. I delivered a shaky first draft as planned, in August, to my wonderful Editor and Publisher at Simon & Schuster Australia, accompanied by an email apologising for it and listing it's many flaws (one of which was the ending). I had taken it as far as I could for now. I had to rely on their excellent and honest judgement as to whether I had something workable or not.
While I waited for their response I signed up to Toni Jordan's Revisioning the Maunscript course at Writers Victoria. Toni was worried I'd get bored because I'd done some of the material 12 months before, when I'd first come to a screaming halt. I assured her it wasn't a problem. I needed this help, that was why I was there. What I didn't know was how much I would needed. Because waiting for me at the end of August when I got my publishers feedback was a piece of advice I was completely unprepared for.
Next week: Journey to Jade - You want me to do WHAT?