Oops, that should have been Tuesday the THIRD of March… sorry about that. But here we are, and I am back. I wish I was feeling refreshed, but I’m not. No, I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. I can’t figure it out, but I suspect Serophene, the fertility drug I have started taking, is the likely culprit. I feel upset in the stomach and highly emotional, both common side effects of these pills. I was down in Man Town village running errands this morning, and the relentless Pram Parade soon had me crying behind my sunglasses – a sure sign that it’s my hormones that are really running amok right now. It was just like that scene in The Truman Show when the powers that be create a sudden traffic jam to impede Truman’s progress, except in my case I had prams running into me at two second intervals and a cast of a thousand toddlers surging around my feet. When you’re taking fertility medication and trying to get pregnant, there’s nothing quite like an avalanche of other people’s children to really lift your spirits. It’s actually astonishing just how bad it made me feel, although I kept muttering under my breath “It’s the drugs, it’s the drugs, I’m sure it’s the drugs.” I basically ran home. I just had to get away from them.
And then I realised I’m supposed to host book club tomorrow night, and that thought filled me with dread too. You see, I’m the only one in book club without children. Oh, hang on, someone’s just joined who doesn’t have kids either, but she’s new and I don’t know her. Everyone else has a minimum of two little angels under their belt. And they talk about motherhood a lot. Most of the time this doesn’t bother me at all. I like them, I like their children, I like hearing about their mutual development. It’s absolutely fascinating, and I figure I can hit them up for everything they know. One day I plan to benefit from this vast store of friendly wisdom and experience. But that day hasn’t remotely arrived, and sometimes I just can’t handle it. Especially when it goes on and on and on, and then they look over at me in that meaningful way, just to let me know they’re all pulling for me, a.k.a Poor Di, and then they flick their collective gaze around the room, looking pained, as if to say to each other in the loudest stage whisper known to humankind LET’S CHANGE THE SUBJECT… POOR DI STILL ISN’T PREGNANT and then there’s this awkward silence where everyone stares at the floor for several seconds too long. And you know what? It’s no one’s fault, and I know they really are hoping it all works out, and really aren’t trying to upset me, but sometimes I just don’t have the reserves to deal well with that situation. And now is one of those times. So I’m bailing on book club. I feel sick, it’s bound to end in tears – let’s spare ourselves the drama.
On a happier and much less fraught note, the Darkling retreat was a resounding success. We were down at Aireys Inlet in Victoria, along the justly famous Great Ocean Road, staying in the holiday house of one of our number. She called it ‘the shack’ during all our communications and planning, but it was a pretty schmicko shack – no frogs in the toilet, as one of the others pointed out when we turned up and realised that this was no dodgy summer camp. Nope. We had luxury towels – bath sheets, if you don’t mind – and we were not afraid to use them. It was a fully functional house, and walking distance to the stunning beaches and the Split Point Lighthouse.
We ate, drank, made merry and actually worked our arses off. It was incredibly productive. We just adopted the same structure of the Professional Development Residency we did at Varuna: individual work through the day, a glass of vino at six, dinner round the table at about 7 and then workshopping, readings and other chat for the rest of the night. The first day I wrote out a page by page, chapter by chapter breakdown. This turned out to be an extremely valuable and illuminating exercise. I was able to excise 21 pages of text immediately. They were funny, but unrelated to the story it’s become. They had no place in that story, and so they had to go. It was obvious, as I was writing down the contents of each and every page of what was a 300 page text (double spaced, don’t faint), that some passages served no purpose other than one that’s become obsolete: getting me started. It was important that I get started, and at that critical time, more than two years ago now, anything that had me writing my book was legitimate, but now I have amassed that body of work, it’s easier to see that some things will help you get there, but won’t belong in the final cut. So… that was the first big accomplishment of the trip, the breakdown. It’s helping me see so many things: subsidiary characters who don’t need to be there, deeds that occur in the wrong place (using the wrong character), significant events that come far too late in the text, and of course the many irrelevancies that simply must go bye byes…I don’t know if what is useful to me will be useful to any other aspiring author out there, but this task sure was clarifying for me.
Then I hacked the MS apart. I chopped, I cut, I pasted, I added bits of verbal adhesive here and there and little notes to remind myself later what still needs doing, and what I had in mind when I threw X together with Y, and who needs to be doing what when. Immediately it has made a critical difference. An event that occurred on page 175 now opens the novel. Yep, it’s that significant. There’s a whole structural overhaul happening and it’s been coming for a while. There has always been a problem with my opening. First it was a tenor thing, and I fixed that at Varuna in September, but still something was wrong. And it’s the content. It’s what happens to the character and when. It’s becoming clear that those particular events need to be given to the reader later, once the reader already knows and hopefully cares about the protagonist. Otherwise it’s a bit of a slog asking the reader to swim through a sewer right up front. Better to fall down a man hole later, and among friends. I now have a shitload of work to do, but what I like about what I accomplished down at AI with the Darklings (who all enthusiastically endorsed the new beginning) is that I’m not passively waiting to find out about the HC thing. I get a place or I don’t, I still have this work to do, it’s right in front of me as plain as day. I’m deciding, it’s not an external judgement, and that means that I can just get on with it. It’s freeing, and it’ll stop me from going to pieces if I don’t make the cut. I honestly won’t mind as much knowing there’s still so much I have to do. It’ll sting, but not as badly, and the way these drugs are making me feel, that’s a damn good thing.
The other Darklings were similarly productive – I’ll tell you more tomorrow. In the meantime, it’s nice to be back with you – I’ve been wondering how you all are.