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Hopefully, I’m on the downhill run with this novel. I’ve finished the latest draft, draft #12 at least (but who’s counting?), and I feel as if it’s ready to send out to agents and publishers. Please note, I also felt it was ready after Draft #4, which it certainly was not.

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Along the way, I’ve shared bits and pieces of Ida’s Children with various readers. Way back in 2012, I shared excerpts from the first draft. Thank you to those listeners who sat through the passages I read and then gave me smiling encouragement. Had you been heavy-handed in your criticism, most likely I would have run for the shredder. (You’ll be pleased to hear that many of those passages have since been dumped.)

Some of my notes for 'Ida's Children'

Some of my notes for ‘Ida’s Children’

Before applying for Varuna, I asked Iris Lavell (author of ‘Elsewhere in Success‘) to read my first fifty pages. She gave me valuable feedback, which not only helped me edit those first fifty pages, but taught me lessons that I could apply when revising the rest of the novel.

My husband was the first reader of the complete novel. I knew he was somewhat biased, and maybe he just said he liked it because he valued his marriage and felt an urge to protect my ego. However, he gave me some constructive tips and, given women’s literary fiction isn’t really his genre, the fact that it held his interest gave me more than a little hope.

I went to Varuna in April and whilst there had a formal manuscript appraisal by a consultant. On the first day at Varuna when we introduced ourselves, I told the other writers I was at Draft #4 stage and was ‘tweaking’ my novel—tidying up the words and making sure each sentence was the best it could be …

Varuna

My room at Varuna

The next morning, I met with Carol Major, the writing consultant. First up, she told me she enjoyed my writing (whew!), that it had energy (fantastic!), she loved my protagonist (I’m quite fond of her, too), and she liked that the action began on the very first page (great!).

After that, she asked me a bit about myself and my background, and about my novel and its theme.
‘Okay,’ she said when I’d finished talking. ‘You need to go back to your theme and delete any scene that doesn’t develop it.’
I nodded. Of course. That made sense.
‘Why does Nora marry Alf? I don’t see the two of them together,’ she said.
‘Umm … because she can’t do what she really wants to do so she gets married instead.’
‘You need to build up to the point where she makes that decision, show the reader the trigger …’
I scribbled that down.
‘And these scenes, the ones with Jesus’ head, how do they develop the story?’
‘They’re light-hearted moments …’
‘They’re not needed.’
‘But they’re funny …’
She shook her head. ‘And Pa,’ she continued, ‘what role does he serve in the story?’
‘Umm … I like him.’
She shook her head again. ‘He has to go …’
‘ … But he’s my Dad.’
She patted my knee. ‘Save him for your next novel.’

Back in my room, I didn’t hesitate before I got stuck into the next draft—everything she’d said was right and I already knew it. It meant another major edit and a lot more work, but it would be worth it because I wanted this story to be the best it could possibly be.

That night at dinner, I told the other writers, ‘You know how I said, I’m here ‘tweaking’ my sentences and paragraphs. Well, I’m not …’

I took the theme and used it as the backbone for the story, paring everything back. Anything that branched from it got the chop. It tightened the story and made the theme stand out more. I had to kill a few darlings—Pa went (sob!), the scenes with Jesus’ head went, too (sigh!), and I wrote a few new scenes so the triggers for characters’ decisions became obvious to the reader.

Then I handed my story over to my writing group. They were gentler in their criticism, but still managed to give me constructive feedback, and once again I took to my story with the clipping shears.

I then set it aside—I was a becoming sick of reading and re-reading it—and didn’t pick it up for a couple of months. When I did, my eyes were fresher and wider, and I could spot mistakes more readily. Serendipitously*, I found Jennifer Kremmer at Book Anvil, and she currently has it. She’s a freelance editor, mentor and writing tutor, and no doubt will have a few more tips …

After that, I’ll start sending my baby out. It’s been nearly three years’ in gestation and although I’ve loved creating it and carrying it everywhere I go, just as with a real baby, I’m ready to give birth. I don’t know how it will fare, and I’m crossing my fingers and my toes in the hope that someone, somewhere will like it …

Don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know if they do!

*Update 13.11.14: My apologies for not acknowledging Frances, the kind follower on Facebook who let me know about Jennifer.

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(Published in the anthology, 'Jukebox', OOTA, 2013.)

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