Thursday, September 29, 2011

So long Sara, and thanks...

On Monday morning, at 5 AM, Australian fantasy writer Sara Douglass died. I have spent the last couple days, among other things, trying to work out exactly how to respond to this incredibly sad event. I never met Sara, But it's fair to say that of all the Australian writers whose work has had an enormous influence upon my own writing, Sara Douglass would be right up there near the top of the list.

Sara's Crucible Trilogy remain to this day arguably the finest historical fantasy books I have ever read. Reading them – and I can particularly remember this in relation to the first book in that series, The Nameless Day – had a profound effect on the way I think about so many things; History, fantasy, narrative, the entire craft of writing and what I do, really. One of my ambitions ever since reading that particular trilogy has been to write something just a fraction as good, As engaging, as immediate and clever. Here: this is what I'm talking about;
Wynkyn de Worde had undertaken the journey between Rome and Nuremberg over one hundred times in the past fifty or so years, but never had he done so before with such a heavy heart. He had been twenty three in 1296 when the then Pope, the great Boniface VIII, had sent him north for the first time.
Twenty-three, and entrusted with a secret so horrifying, that it, and the nightmarish responsibility it carried with it, would have killed most other men. But Wynkyn was a special man, strong and dedicated, sure of the right of God, and with a faith so unshakeable that Boniface understood why the Angels had selected him as the man fit to oversee the Cleft.
“Reveal the secret to any other man," Boniface had told the young Dominican, “and you can be sure that the angels themselves will ensure your death."
- The Nameless Day, p.3
For me, that short passage (and it's only one of quite literally hundreds I could have chosen from just about any of Sara's books) catches beautifully what Sara did – she knew her characters so well, and her readers, and she had the most deft ability to bring both of them together so quickly, so engagingly, that her writing seemed just effortless.

When the news came through the other morning, and even though it was not unexpected, I still sat, shocked and quiet in my office at work with a sudden, quite profound sense of loss, as though the world was suddenly a much poorer place.

As I say, I never met Sara, and yet like so many other readers around the world hers was a life that did intersect with mine, and I am so much the richer for the experience.

My heart goes out to everyone who knew and cared for Sara Douglass, especially my very good friends Karen and Steve who I know will be feeling this loss with every fibre of their being.

So thank you Sara – for the stories, the characters, for your love of narrative and your profound understanding of human nature, which came through in every word you wrote. Tomorrow afternoon, as requested, I'll definitely raise a glass in your honour.

Monday, September 19, 2011

So, you thought I was dead?

I'm not. And I won't bore you with the usual litany of excuses. Since last we spoke, I've been keeping myself busy ticking my annual performance review boxes at work, getting a new writing project underway, learning to drive my voice recognition software properly, teaching, riding horses, gardening (spring has finally sprung here in Canberra, which means that the weeds in our garden are now as high as an elephant's eye and climbing by the day) and – most importantly, as far as this blog is concerned - finishing the rewrite of The Hunter.

And a couple of hours ago, finally, I got it done. I'm really happy with it, but of course finishing a presentable draft is just the beginning of the hard work. About half an hour ago I dropped it, along with a letter of introduction and a plot synopsis, into an envelope and posted it off to a New York literary agent to whom I was recently introduced. Now it's a matter of waiting and seeing if she's interested in it enough to sign me up.

It's funny – this is the first time in over a decade that I've had to physically post my book off to someone with no guarantee of it being well received, or even published. I'd almost forgotten how odd and disconcerting the very real possibility of rejection can be.

Of course, given that I spend half my life telling my students at uni (and anyone else who will listen) that learning to take criticism and to deal with rejection is one of the key skills of being a writer, I'm really in no position to complain.

Still, I'll admit that as I dropped the envelope (with $14.80 worth of stamps on it) into the post box, there was an odd little butterfly in the pit of my stomach – an heady combination of nervousness, but also excitement; of the unpredictable, and the unknown. Who knows what's going to happen as a result of my decision to send his book straight overseas to an agent, rather than doing what I've always done and taking it directly to my publishers here in Australia? (I should add here that my reasons for making this decision are nothing to do with my publishers – I love my publishers, and they have done some fantastic things with my back catalogue in recent months – but I think I am at a point in my writing career where it is time to take a broader look at how I do things.)

So, anyway – that's where I'm at. The book (or, at least, the first 50 pages of it) is now irretrievably on its way to New York, and I can get on with writing the second one and try not to be too nervous in the meantime.

And, hopefully, with getting a few more blog posts done and re-engaging with all my mates in the twitterverse.


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