Starting Down the Path

September 14, 2010 at 3:41 am (Uncategorized)

The latest Monthly Feature is now up on the Varuna Alumni News site, for anyone who is interested. Some of you may recall my cringe-worthy experience at the Sydney Writers’ Festival Afternoon Tea this year, at which I was struck by a sickening nerve attack after putting up my hand to object to a comment made by moderator Geraldine Doogue. A mild sense of indignation has remained ever since, and it stewed away until I finally attended to it by writing this feature on literary allusions. It’s interesting how some ideas and issues simply refuse to go away, and this one certainly lingered. Anyway, I hope those of you who venture across to the Alumni News enjoy it – I am certainly getting a lot out of writing the feature each month (even though I suffer crippling anxiety about its quality each and every time).

I must also tell you about a forthcoming Varuna event: the annual Pathways to Publication forum is coming up on Monday 11 October, and tickets are currently still available. I unfortunately can’t attend this year because of my obstetrics schedule; Dr F is a busy man, constantly delivering babies, so there’s not a lot of flexibility with these things unless there’s an unforeseen emergency his end, so I just turn up when instructed. But I’ve been to Pathways before, and for anyone thinking of going who may happen upon this blog, let me assure you it’s a great, very worthwhile day. And from a community-of-writers perspective, a forum like this can prove to be really useful to aspirants like myself. You have a very good chance of striking up a conversation with someone who lives on the other side of the gate. You know the one – it’s that rather forbidding barrier marked Published Author.

For example, it’s where I first met Shuckin’ Charlotte – a.k.a Charlotte Wood, author of The Children, The Submerged Cathedral and Pieces of a Girl, as well as editor of the Brothers and Sisters anthology – face-to-face. Charlotte now holds the dubious distinction of being one of the first Australian novelists I ever met IN THE FLESH, and it’s no surprise our first encounter proved far more significant for me, because she’s since been such a generous unofficial mentor, and is an all round tireless advocate for Australian writers in general. Though we knew someone non-writerly in common, my personal association with Charlotte started when she admired my necklace after I stopped (assaulted?!) her in the coffee queue. The moral of the story is: never underestimate the importance of a good accessory. Oh, and never abstain from caffeine when it’s so obviously good for you. Finally, never disregard the networking potential of a snaking queue.

It was also at Pathways, thanks to Varuna’s Creative Director Peter Bishop, who makes a habit of engineering such things, that I met and was able to speak to a prominent Acquisitions Editor. She ultimately passed on my MS as it stood, and with good reason, but she was extraordinarily giving of both her time and her invaluable feedback on my work. I have absolutely no doubt that meeting her in person at Pathways helped secure our later interactions. Finally, an agent on one of the panels told the audience she was accepting submissions; I followed up afterwards by sending her mine. She too passed, but invited me to resubmit after redrafting – as did the Acquisitions Editor.

Now, it’s been well documented on this blog that, to this day, I have failed to secure either an agent or a publisher for my work. I don’t have a happy ending for you, but to view these exchanges as nothing more than rejections would be a huge mistake. Yes, they rejected that draft of the MS, and on both occasions it was horribly disappointing and hard, but in each case what these industry people afforded me was a very nuanced response, full of free, constructive feedback of the variety that the average unpublished, unknown fiction writer like me generally can’t access.

In other words, attending things such as Varuna’s Pathways forum can undoubtedly set a chain of unexpected events in motion. While such developments may not be the full fairytale – and reality sure as hell keeps biting this bum – you just never know where such things may lead. Besides all this, you might even learn a thing or two. I certainly did. And two years later, I’m the Varuna Alumni News Editor, so see what I mean?



  1. litlove said,

    Lovely piece for Varuna, Di, and I agree. Anyone who thinks that literary allusions can be avoided in just about any narrative is kidding themselves. They’re inescapable, not a matter of choice, but appropriated and used well they can be extremely fertile.

    • doctordi said,

      Aw, you bothered to read it – aren’t you a love, LL?! Thanks – I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I make myself sick with worry every single month over whether or not I’ve done a good enough job… none of my other freelance work plagues me in this way, so I can only put it down to that ‘jury of one’s peers’ anxiety, which I feel abundantly.

      Yes, I was gobsmacked by the idea, I must say. Genuinely confounded. I suppose she was just making conversation and hadn’t really thought that one through, but still, it was a remarkable thing to say.

  2. Pete said,

    Great piece and it’s actually helped with me with my current predicament of “how to cope with deployment”. With books of course (and all those literary allusions). Thanks.

    • doctordi said,

      And you too, Pete – thanks so much for reading it. I am so happy to think you guys enjoyed it, and delighted to help in any way with your preparations for imminent deployment!!

  3. plumbean said,

    sounds wonderful! i know you will end up on the other side of that gate soon!

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, Priya – I wonder. I certainly doubt I’ll be able to leap clear across it, so perhaps it’s a question of how one negotiates it on the ground. It kind of reminds me of high jump. Because I was tall, they always tried pushing me into it in primary school, but I used to run up and freeze like a recalcitrant horse before the hurdle, every single time.

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