Today’s writer in the attic, Stephanie Parkyn, and I have much in common: we’re both debut authors, we’re both published by Allen and Unwin (or soon-to-be), and we’ve both lived in Launceston,Tasmania—I grew up there, and Steph now lives there.
Steph writes about how she discovered what her book needed and, as you’ll see, she finds it in a most unusual place!
‘I realised that what I was doing to my poor character, Marie-Louise Girardin, was giving her terrifying experiences one after the other, without the thrill of achievement or pride in her accomplishments.’
Stephanie Parkyn has always wanted to write stories, growing up in a book-loving home in Christchurch, New Zealand, but a fascination with science led her to a PhD in biology and a career as an environmental scientist. On moving to Tasmania, she learned of the remarkable voyage of Marie-Louise Girardin, the Frenchwoman who joined an expedition to Australia and the South Pacific disguised as a man. Into the World is Stephanie’s first novel. Her short stories have been published in the 40 South Anthologies and shortlisted for the Scarlet Stiletto competition and RSNZ Manhire Award for Creative Science Writing. She now lives in Launceston, Tasmania.
On Building Heart
(And finding writing wisdom in unlikely places)
When we are learning to write we inhale the words of authors we admire, listen to their secrets of storytelling and scour the internet for sage advice from those that have gone before. We read books on craft, share tips with our writing friends – but sometimes the best advice, the lesson we really need to help move our story forward, comes from places we never thought to look.
Writing is not easy and many authors will tell you that getting published is a combination of hard work, perseverance, and luck. One of the most difficult questions to ask ourselves, as hopeful writers with manuscripts in want of a publisher, is when is it ready? Have I given this story the best chance to succeed with an agent or publisher? With my novel, Into the World, I was immensely grateful (and actually did jump up and down with joy) to secure an agent, but I also experienced a day where I received five rejections from publishers – an email with small paragraphs of honest, brutal critique that sent me hiding for days. Thankfully, my eventual publisher, Allen & Unwin, saw promise. But my novel was not ready yet.
‘Rejection flattens you. It grabs you by the foot and throws you face first to the floor.’
Rejection flattens you. It grabs you by the foot and throws you face first to the floor. No amount of reading about author’s rejection letters will prepare you for it actually happening to you. Even though Allen & Unwin was investing an editorial report for me, a hugely positive step, the only words I heard playing in my head were the negative ones. While I was recovering from this body blow to my confidence and waiting nervously for the report to arrive, I happened upon an unusual article by way of Facebook. One of the best things about Facebook is how it pops in your path all the obscure things that your friends are interested in. I would never have gone looking for a specific article on the design of cross-country courses in the Equestrian sport. But a friend’s passion for the topic led me to it, and it proved to be just the thing I needed for my story and myself.
I cannot remember the title or author or name of publication, and I am working from memories that resonated for me at the time, but the nub of her issue in writing this article was that cross-country fences and course design were becoming too difficult, too soul-destroying for the horses. A good course, she argued, should give horse and rider a challenge to overcome, to feel better about themselves and their abilities as they progressed through the course, not be ground down and dispirited and left traumatised. It needed to give the horse courage, to build heart.
To build heart. That was it! In that moment, I saw what was missing in my story. I needed to build more heart. I realised that what I was doing to my poor character, Marie-Louise Girardin, was giving her terrifying experiences one after the other, without the thrill of achievement or pride in her accomplishments. She needed to grow in confidence through the course of her journey. It was not enough to throw harder obstacles at her and see how she coped; I needed to show that she had the strength to make the final fence.
And I wanted to write a novel about healing, not about despair.
So when my editorial report arrived, I was prepared for it. I knew what I wanted my novel to be about and I was ready to make the changes. Both writers and their characters need courage to stay on course. And I learned that words of inspiration can come from all manner of sources, we writers just have to prick up our ears and take notice.
‘And I learned that words of inspiration can come from all manner of sources, we writers just have to prick up our ears and take notice.’
LAUNCH OF THE SISTERS’ SONG
There are still a few spots left, so please come along if you live in Perth.
The giveaway of The Sisters’ Song is still happening over at Goodreads. It’s on until 20 December, so click here if you haven’t already entered.