Things have been happening offscreen the past few weeks that you may be interested to hear about. First, one of the Darklings, JB, was shortlisted for the second year running in one of Autralia’s most significant short story awards, the Alan Marshall (woo hoo!!!!! Way to go, JB!!!). This year’s competition was judged by Sophie Cunningham, editor of one of the country’s premier literary magazines, Meanjin. I can’t get anything published in Meanjin, but it’s a great mag, so there’s no hard feelings. I’d be much more distressed if a lousy rag kept knocking me back, whereas Meanjin is entitled to maintain its high standards, and it has my warm blessing to do so. Anyway, I was pretty sure JB’s entry would get some sort of recognition in the Alan Marshall, and I’m very proud and pleased it did. I hated my own entry, and didn’t rate its chances myself (you may even remember my saying so at the time, and I was and am completely sincere), so there was no disappointment at the letterbox, just a sense of justice having been served. I don’t even know why I bothered entering. I guess because otherwise I feel like I’m letting opportunities pass. But the truth is, I shouldn’t send things I know are sub-par. That’s not missing an opportunity, that’s screwing one up. It doesn’t help me and it certainly doesn’t help the poor judge wading through what must be at least 40 percent dross, mine included. Ugh.
Llew said to me the other day, “Well, you don’t put any work into your short stories, so I’m not even going to talk to you about it anymore because you’re not even serious. Put a fraction of the effort into one of those that you’ve put into the manuscript and maybe then this is a conversation we can have.”
And he’s right. What’s interesting is that JB’s consecutive shortlist placings have been for edited extracts from her full-length manuscript. JB’s a beautiful writer, a real craftswoman, and, you know, she’s done the work. It’s great that she’s being recognised in these short form arenas because it validates the larger project. I haven’t tried submitting excerpts from my manuscript as I don’t think it lends itself very well to that, but there’s no question that’s where all my effort has been spent. Llew’s absolutely spot-on. I always feel like I should be writing short stories, so every now and again I try, but they’re pretty bad, I’m sorry to say, and I can expect them to stay that way unless I fully commit to studying and practising the form.
I wonder sometimes if I’m not more a distance writer in the same way I’m a distance runner… I honesty don’t think much of running 21 kms without the benefit of training – that’s exactly the circumstance in which I ran my first half-marathon, just to see if I could – but I can’t sprint. And as far as the writing goes, I think it’s because I think in terms of character instead of plot, so it takes me a long, long time to get anywhere. I have to hang out with these characters for a long time before I know them well enough and before any sort of plot comes along to direct their actions and decide the thing for me. Short stories, on the other hand, need to have a really clear universal axis around which they briefly spin… an immediacy I haven’t been able to tap. But I want to do well at it. I think short stories are incredibly difficult to do well, and so as a practice building exercise, I’m going to start paying much more attention, and trying much harder.
As for the manuscript, well, Marcelo, the illustrator, and I have been emailing back and forth since I rediscovered him, and I think we’re almost there. It turns out I can’t afford to get all the drawings done, but I’ve put money aside to pay for some, and we’re pretty much agreed on which ones they’re going to be. Now I can start getting really excited about it all. I can’t wait – CAN’T WAIT – to see someone else’s vision of characters I’ve created. It’s just cool. I can’t wait. And if it all goes horribly wrong and we somehow don’t get each other at all, and it’s a disaster, then that’ll be a shame, and it’ll have cost me some hard-won wedge, but regardless, I’ll have some of Marcelo’s funky art, more knowledge for next time, and a great story to tell anyone who cares to listen. So friends, that’s what’s been going on behind Nana’s venetian blinds. Never a dull moment.