Sunday, October 7, 2012

Announcing my new baby... the literary kind.

Apologies to my friends and followers for the inordinate lapse in updates. The last months have been crazy and wonderful all at once. (Though with lots of tedious bits in between, despite my misguided belief that all that would stop when the best happened.)

Anyway. The big news is that my first novel is being published by Random House in June 2013. For obvious reasons, this has brought about much leaping and cheering in my household. (Most of it by me, a bit by my bemused kids, and a slightly bigger bit by my Cute American Husband who's been listening to me bang on about this novel for the wrong side of a decade.) Finally, you see, it looks like I might have achieved the one thing writers long for... No. Not millions of dollars, or a line of rubbery dolls made in the form of my main character. Though that sounds kind of cool. What we really crave, dream and long for is, well, readers. We say we love writing for the sake of it - and on one level we do of course; God knows we're not in it for the money - but writing and writing (and writing) with no or limited chance of a readership is less than satisfying. Actually, it can be soul destroying.

But now I've had my Young Adult novel picked up by Random House which means that the first part of this dream looks like it might come true. It means I'll be able to hold in my hands a book with my name on the cover and even - deep breath - see it on a shelf in a bookshop somewhere without my having to break any laws or codes of decency to get it there. The backing of a publisher with the reputation and prestige of Random House means that the chances of finding readers - real readers who actually pay to read my story - have now significantly improved. However, that's not the end of it.

Which is where you lovely people come in. (insert obsequious smiley face here)

Over the coming months, right up to and following the launch of my novel, I will, on occasion, draw on your lovely brains, mouths and keyboards to help me get word out about this novel and, eventually, perhaps even buy it. This is the way of publishing now - word of mouth and online support will make or break this book, and without the support of those who love - or even vaguely like - my writing will hopefully be prepared to back it when asked.

But more on that later. If you'll indulge me.

Right now, I'm nearing the end of revisions and am hoping to have a near-to-final draft of said novel in the hands of my brilliant editor within a fortnight, so I will have to disappear again to hold up my end of the deal and deliver a manuscript that is good enough to soon become a book.

Bear with me while I sort out my end of the arrangement and, in the meantime, prepare yourselves for updates and requests in the coming months aimed entirely at helping publicise and advocate for my new and first baby, currently known as Full Forward. (Yes, I mean my novel. Sheesh.)

I hope you will indulge (understand/tolerate) these occasional requests, and that you will do what you can to help the process along.

I will tell you more about the novel in posts to come, but in the meantime, keep reading and stay in touch.

Nic xxx

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Update to Googling old friends...

It's been great seeing my article about googling old friends published on the very cool Mamamia site. If you haven't seen it yet, here's the link. If you have, you'll know that many comments have suggested that I contact my friend's family, despite my misgivings. Many readers felt that having lost their daughter, my friend's parents most likely would want to hear about how she is loved and missed even now, three years later. And I guess I see that now. I have attempted a couple of times to write the letter I'd like to send but have decided to let it sit a while first because, frankly, I want to get it right. There's so much to think about, and still some measure of shock at play. I have lots of questions and very few answers, many of them simply about what to say. And what not to say. Should I mention the article and blog, or shouldn't I? Should I reference the years apart or simply remind them of our time together? How much or how little should I say? These are the questions that hold me back from sending my letter right away, but won't, I assure you, stop me from sending it at all.

(The questions are rhetorical, btw. I'll find my own answers soon enough. :-) )

In the meantime, I just want to say how thoroughly overwhelmed I've been by the generous and candid responses provided here and at Mamamia - I had no idea this piece would generate such a warm reception, so I'm taking the moment to thank you all for your thoughtful consideration and your moving responses.

I'm working on a new novel as I await word on the current one, but will try to blog more often than I have recently, as much because it's been such a lovely experience getting to know all of you readers as because, frankly, I need the exercise.

Look forward to seeing you around here and will be sure to update you when there's something new to read.


Friday, April 13, 2012

He's just so cute...

At the end of last year, in a fit of guilty parenting brought on by a heartbroken 11 year old, we caved in and brought home a little bundle of joy. Not the two-legged kind — God forbid. We've already done that twice, and we're still paying dearly. No. It’s more a case of breeders dropping by. Dog breeders.

Yes, we have a puppy. A round, troublesome lump of fur who can simultaneously melt your heart while ripping your finger off. Not a small feat. But to see him you’d think he’d been doing it all his life. And after he does it, I hear myself, and the rest of my clan, say, He’s just so cute.

We’re into our fourth month of “parenthood” -- I know, I know; bear with me -- and already I’ve learnt a lot about animals, veterinarians, and myself. Not to mention a whole lot of local strangers with whom I have bonded over steaming piles of dog poo in the handful of off-lead areas near our house. (But I digress.) I’ve learned that animals give signals and communicate just as definitively as we do (in the case of many men I know, a lot more) and, correspondingly, to ignore them is, well, pretty stupid.

For example, in those first weeks, Brody (alleged to be half golden retriever, but is inexplicably terrified of water) would suddenly run about the room in mad circles, begin sniffing the floor, look at me helplessly, then pee a gallon (like only a puppy can). My mistake so often was that I didn't attend to the signs. The fact that they changed almost daily is my lookout. Sometimes he just sniffed and peed. Other days he would run in circles after the business rather than before. And still other times, it might seem as if he did nothing to warn us at all, unless you can count those microseconds before the release, when he looked up at us piteously, almost shamefacedly, while squatting on the the only unstained section of our family room carpet.

Then of course, there’s that biting thing. Considering that Brody still has his “milk teeth” it’s amazing that they can be so sharp. My heart goes out to his poor mother if she had to suffer his needle-like teeth on her tired and worn teat every time he was hungry (about every twenty minutes at the time of writing). And he was one of seven in his litter. I have pin holes and welts all over my hands, arms, and feet — even one across my right cheek — where our precious little darling has left his mark, and there’s only one of him.

The books say that he’s teething and so it’s inevitable that he will chew and nip. But if he’s teething, then how come he already has teeth? Really, he doesn’t need anymore. The ones he’s got are more than effective.

The second thing I’ve learned is that veterinarians are UNBELIEVABLY expensive. I mean, forget private school fees for the kids, renovating the house, or even a new car some day. Our money is paying off our local vet’s kids' private school tuition, three times over. And despite the fact that we are paying, she hardly ever talks to us. She just talks to the patient, which I’m sure is very considerate, but it is not especially practical. “So, Brody, how are you feeling today? Got rid of those worms yet?” I feel a bit like an intruder when they have these conversations which, I think she’s gradually realising, tend to be a little one-sided.

And then there’s the training aspect. We patiently repeat these inane, simple commands, hoping to get any response, let alone the right one, while he sniffs and looks distractedly away. When he does finally sit, the fact that you told him to “come” is forgotten as you lavish praise on the adorable tike, only to have him grab your hand in his razor-sharp teeth and chomp down really hard. And as you yelp painfully, he looks up at you innocently and you have this wild, insane desire to pet him again, just because he’s so cute.

And this is the bit I’m learning about myself. Apart from the fact that I seem to have developed a certain masochism where bodily pain is concerned, I have also discovered in me an almost endless pool of tolerance and patience. And that even though there are brief, delicious moments when I dream of a time before Brody, I am so permanently tied to him, that I cannot really imagine a future without him. He’s just so cute.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Googling old friends

A strange thing happened to me last night and I'm not sure what to do about it. I googled an old friend's name. Googling a face from the past isn't the strange thing - I've done this more times than I'd like to admit. (Almost as many times as I've googled my own name to see if some sneaky publisher has released my novel without telling me... Wait. Did I just say that out loud?) The strange thing is that I hadn't googled this particular friend before. I don't know why. She was my absolutely best of best friends in primary school. We even managed to maintain that friendship throughout Year 7 where philosophical differences and geography intervened, sending us to different schools in different suburbs across the city. Even then, for a while, we stuck it out.

And then time and age and adolescent uncertainty kicked in and suddenly the slow responses when I called, or the less frequent visits on weekends seemed to mean something had changed, or shifted anyway. Things we took for granted had to be felt out, considered, measured with care. The conversations a little forced, or stiff anyway. We saw each other more sporadically, less freely, and then that dropped off too. I don't know if it petered out or simply ceased overnight, but one day I just didn't see her anymore. For a while after that I thought about her a lot. And then I didn't. Life moved on. New friends came and went. We grew up, separately. Irreversibly.

The thing is, I adored her like only a young girl can. I think she felt the same about me, too. No one has ever made me laugh like she did. Nor loved the same things with the same passion and intensity. At the time it was KISS. We had every record, knew all the lyrics. We could draw each of the members' make-up in perfect imitation of the real thing, colours and all, and their outfits were imprinted on our memory way better than the 12 times' tables ever would be. We knew their wives' names, their dogs' names... We could sing the words backwards, literally, like some dwarf-loving David Lynch movie. We studied the lyrics for hidden meanings, transcribed them onto the page, moving them around, putting them back where they belonged. We belted out their songs at the top of our lungs, making up dances that would make Seinfeld's Elaine clap out loud. She called me "Nickski". I called her "Jubski". We made up our own language, quoting chunks from it in the schoolground with the arrogant fluency of Kevin Rudd addressing the Chinese parliament.

We rode our bikes down the newly developing Glen Waverley streets, scouting out hiding places amongst the scaffolding and house frames, wrote our names on the bitumen with chunks of chalky clay. We stalked the gorgeous curly-haired Year 8 boy we were crushing on with frightening intensity. She'd report the next day on new sightings after I'd gone home. While I'd wish we could live in the same house so I didn't have to miss out on these moments which I was certain were meant to be ours to share. Her dog came when I called him, her little brother hassled me like an annoying little brother should. Her mother baked my favourite dessert when she knew I was coming, and her dad would test his advertising pitches on us both. They included me in their lives as though I had as much right to be there as anyone with the same last name. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year.

And then it stopped. I can't say when exactly, and I don't know why. But it did. And I missed her. I like to hope she missed me too. Somewhere though I always thought we'd run into each other again. We still lived in the same suburb, despite the school change, and by rights, we should have seen each other all the time. We could have if we wanted to. Found a way to catch up, maintaining this friendship somehow, by correspondence, or on big occasions. We could have done that. Except we didn't. And then it ended, and suddenly my everything became my history, and no longer the centre of my life. Not part of my life at all.

So it's a strange thing that last night was the first time I ever tried to Google her. Her name is unique and unforgettable. There are not two of them, of that I'm sure. So to finally see her name online, all three bits, hyphenated like always - distinguishing her from the bland cream brick veneer of our childhood Glen Waverley - was something amazing.

And something shocking, too.

It didn't take long - a quick search and suddenly I was seeing her name in bold font. Large lettering, as clear as the words I write now. Front and centre, featured on a beautifully designed website that reminded me of a scrapbook, or a wedding album. It wasn't either of those things. It was a remembrance page.

It was the only mention I could find, the only reference with all three of her names. The only online evidence she ever lived was scrawled on a website dedicated to the dead. Slowly, as I scanned the pages, the tributes, the farewell messages, I began to accept that she had passed away. My best friend in the whole wide world that was my childhood died three years ago, and I didn't even know it. At the time, my heart did not skip a beat. I didn't feel the loss, or sense her absence. Nothing moved or ended. No moment of realisation or awareness. I didn't know, or notice, or see. I still wouldn't know if I hadn't been trying so hard not to write.

How is it possible that someone who is so intrinsic to your life, to how you breathe, think and feel, can pass through so easily into her own life, and then the afterlife, without even the tiniest of ripples in your own?

How is it possible my one-time best friend died and I didn't even realise?

I've spent much of today in a daze, not sure what to do with this information. Whether I have a right to do anything at all. I forget about it every now and then - just like I'd forgotten about her in those busy periods of my life when there was too much else for my mind to hold on to - and then it hits me like a wall. Hard and impenetrable. Impossible and unforgiving.

I'd like to tell her family I still miss her. I'd like to tell them she was amazing and special and unforgettable. I'd like to say all of this and more. Somehow though I know this won't happen. Shouldn't happen. It's not my place. Not my right. She isn't mine to grieve - I gave that privilege up a long time ago.

So now I have to find a place to keep her, a place of respect and love, alongside the other things I've lost that perhaps were never really mine to have anyway. Alongside my promise to sometimes, every now and then, just remember her. And to hope that my daughters find a friend like I had, even if just for a little while.

JWM - Rest in Peace.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Michael Sala's The Last Thread

The Last Thread
By Michael Sala
(Affirm Press)

Broken into two parts, Michael Sala’s The Last Thread tells the story of Michaelis (later, in an effort to fit in with his Australian home, Michael) and his family’s migration from The Netherlands to Australia, from Australia to The Netherlands, and back to Australia again. Largely autobiographical, it depicts his early years as the younger and, in his mind, less favoured of two brothers and their complicated relationship with their frustratingly inept mother. Detailing the years with a cruel and bullying stepfather, through the difficult terrain of family scandal surrounding their separation from an enigmatic father, and their mother’s frequently terrible choices in love and life, The Last Thread is at times both beautiful and poignant, if a little uneven.

The first section largely follows the chronology of events and is, I believe, the more successful part. Told in the subjective third person from the young Michaelis’s point-of-view, it weaves in and out of the lives of his family, which, much like the narrative, is in perpetual motion, staying still only long enough for Michaelis — and the reader — to begin to feel like he might have found a home. Each of these upheavals is driven by his complex and difficult mother’s search for happiness. Of course, this sort of search for happiness is futile and painful. The answers his mother seeks don’t exist outside herself and have nothing — or little — to do with geography, although the rendering of the Australian landscape in the 1970s through the eyes of a foreigner certainly paints a bleak and confronting picture of just how hostile and unforgiving it could be. (And perhaps - given the Cronulla riots, our treatment of asylum seekers and Indigenous Australia - still is.) While the family’s fate is driven by the mother’s pursuit of the impossible, the story is focussed on how Michaelis adjusts to these sudden and often shocking upheavals, without ever satisfactorily exploring the emotional toll these decisions have on the young and lonely boy, except in the pervasive sense of disconnection - from everything. The disconnect between the characters and their emotions echoes the disconnect this reader felt with Michaelis himself. Whether by accident or design, like Michaelis, the reader must also keep up with these jarring shifts, forced to reconnect the emotional fractures that characterise all of Michaelis’ relationships. To fill in the gaps. The effect is both compelling and frustrating.

The second part of the novel is told in first person, in the voice of Michael as the man he is today: a father and partner struggling to relinquish the tentacles of his torrid and fraught history. This section moves back and forth through Michael’s memories and his present day to varying success, with the added effect of bringing another dimension to the character, while still rendering him largely unknowable. It is as though by luring the reader to a point where we feel we’re just getting to know and understand this man/boy, we are abruptly delivered somewhere else, restricting us from the access we desire. Much as Michael/Michaelis is by his mother’s restless search for a place that feels like a home.

The backcover blurb tells us that “Michael — now a father — must decide if he can free himself from the dark pull of the past”, however, this is not where we find ourselves in the end. Rather, Michael — and the reader — are left grappling with the man he’s become, a man still bound by the suffocating fears and injustices that plagued his childhood years.

Overall, The Last Thread is rich and beautifully drawn but also, ultimately, vaguely unsatisfying. I suspect that the “truth” of this roman a clef is perhaps the very thing that limits its possibilities. I wonder why Sala chose to fictionalise at all when he seemed attached to a “true” or real ending that leaves us with more questions than answers. Just as Michaelis/Michael is a work in progress, The Last Thread felt a bit like an unfinished manuscript too. Having said that, there is much to enjoy in this novel, and I’m keen to read more of Sala’s fiction. My hope is that, next time, this talented and exciting new writer frees himself to move further from the autobiographical into the fictional where, I’m certain, breathtaking fiction awaits.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Back from Hiatus

Is it possible that the last post I made was in May? That the last book I reviewed was eight months ago? Oh, say it ain't so.

For reference, in that time I've completed a novel and sent it off into the loving arms of my tireless agent and am now awaiting word from publishers. In the meantime, I am NOT checking my email hourly, turning my phone on and off to make sure it's working, OR sending said agent inane tidbits about the latest book I read, or a cool new washing product (that really works!), just to remind her I exist.

I'm not, I tell you. I'm. Not.

What I am doing is trying to decide what to write next. Right now, the answer is hovering somewhere between something similar but a bit different to what I've just finished and resurrecting my longheld desire to join the circus.

As you can see, I'm making excellent progress.

So while I draw ever closer to determining the meaning of life, I have some books I want to review cluttering my bedside table, and better I empty them here than continually harangue my agent. At least, that's what she says.

Still with me?

I'll be back with the first of these soon. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter (@nichmelbourne) which is all that's stopping me from parking outside every publisher in Australia, brandishing my 300 page manuscript like a sword.